State Anti-Terrorism Chiefs Play Unclear Role
By John Nagy, Staff Writer
Every state has designated a point person who would co-ordinate anti-terror measures from the prevention of future attacks to response and recovery.
Most are high-level policy advisors who command broad respect. But few have any new money or staff with which to do their jobs. Unlike former Pennsylvania Gov Tom Ridge, the federal director of homeland security, many of them intentionally keep a low profile and view their duties as primarily administrative.
"My role is supporting the people who are really the workers in public health and public safety, emergency planning and emergency management not only at the state level but at the county and municipal level along with our federal partners," said Delaware Homeland Security Director Philip Cabaud.
"The actual work and response to an event is really the responsibility of others," he said.
Another key difference from Ridge: Anywhere from 20 to 36 of the politically-appointed state directors could be doing something else in January depending on the outcome of November's gubernatorial elections.
At least two are themselves candidates for elected office this year. Ohio Lt. Governor and Public Safety Secretary Maureen O'Connor is competing for a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court. Texas Land Commissioner David Dewhurst is running for lieutenant governor. Both are Republicans.
"We could have 20 to 30 new directors of homeland security; we could have 20 to 30 new directors of emergency management. As with every administration change, there's a transition period. But there's an awful lot of preparation time for that transition," said Ohio Emergency Management Executive Director Dale Shipley.
The uncertainty posed by the 2002 elections highlights the variety of approaches states have taken with in filling homeland security director's posts.
Eleven states turned to the commanding officer of their state's National Guard. Nine tapped their emergency management directors. Public safety commissioners, State Police chiefs, lieutenant governors and an assistant attorney general hold the post elsewhere.
Fifteen governors kept the new duties in their own offices, tasking trusted policy advisors or enlisting help from outside state government.
The governors of California, Delaware, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania selected former FBI agents. Indiana went with the chairman of its Alcohol and Tobacco Commission; Texas with its Land Commissioner. Maryland's Al Collins is a former schoolteacher now serving as Gov. Parris Glendening's Chief of Staff. And Deb Bowman, a top aide to Gov. Bill Janklow, was the recipient of the South Dakota Coalition for Children's 2001 Champion for Children Honor Roll Award.
The various skill sets possessed by the appointees offer obvious advantages as well as a few less obvious disadvantages, experts say.
Guard commanders often have little experience dealing with civilian agencies, experts note. Emergency officials are strong on response, but have less control over prevention. Law enforcement faces the opposite problem, being only one component of any response team. Those working close to or inside the governor's office, like Nebraska Lt. Gov. Dave Heineman, say they're better positioned to overcome turf battles and avoid a "fragmented departmental view."
To some, the choices make little difference. "Our attitude is we'll work with whomever the governor of a state determines to be the point of contact," said Duncan Campbell, who directs state and local relations for Ridge's office.
"I would say the majority of them are very well-chosen. . . (But) none of them have very much power. They're relying on federal money with strings attached," said Kendra Stewart, a public administration professor at Eastern Kentucky University who surveyed the state directors over the summer.
Most people don't think their states are doing anything to make them safer from the threat of terrorism, let alone know who their state's homeland security director is, said Dr. Donald Sebastian of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, which polled metro New Yorkers on their perceptions of their safety after Sept. 11.
"These are serious operations and there is not a lot of hornblowing going on because they want to get security measures in place," Sebastian said.
All the more reason to choose leadership carefully, according to Massachusetts Senator Richard Moore, who chairs a national legislative panel on post-Sept. 11 security policy.
Moore said he's concerned about "the rapid creation of homeland security officers at the state level. . . We need to determine whether there should be a separate office and whether there needs to be greater involvement by the legislature, because we end up having to appropriate it."
So far, only two legislatures have taken permanent action. The Colorado legislature created the Office of Preparedness, Security and Fire Safety. Iowa lawmakers housed homeland security responsibilities in the state's Emergency Management Division.
"It's a good fit" for Iowa director Ellen Gordon, who said homeland security concerns have broadened her horizons beyond preparing to respond to a crisis in Iowa.
Many directors say their toughest challenges are funding and politics of the non-elective kind.
"The number of claimants, those that have an agenda and something to protect, are numerous. There are many agencies and actors with an oar in the water," Missouri director Tim Daniel, a retired Army colonel who may hold the distinction of being the first state homeland security designee, told Stateline.org .
But if not handled carefully, the fall's elections will impose new questions of authority.
Virginia Emergency Management Coordinator Michael Cline said his state successfully navigated a change in party control after Sept. 11 because of close cooperation between former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) and incoming Gov. Mark Warner (D). Warner's appointment of Gilmore's second-in-command, former Lt. Gov. John Hager (R), to the homeland security post also helped, Cline said.
Warner "was making sure he didn't lose the good work that had been done and was making sure that he didn't make homeland security a partisan political issue. . . We had an extremely smooth transition for emergency management and homeland security," he said.