Federal Times Blogs

The Washington Post’s ‘Top Secret America’

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52207228AW006_Meet_The_PresThe Washington Post this morning has a must-read story illustrating how massive, unwieldy and redundant the federal government’s post-9/11 security mission has become — and questioning whether it’s actually made us safer. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Dana Priest and writer William Arkin’s three-part, two year investigation found that “after nine years of unprecedented spending and growth”:

  • Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence at about 10,000 locations nationwide.
  • About 854,000 people hold top secret security clearances.
  • In the Washington area, 33 complexes for top secret intelligence work — the equivalent of three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings — are under construction or have been built since 9/11.
  • 51 different federal organizations and military commands in 15 U.S. cities are all assigned the same job — to track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.
  • One senior official in the Defense Department — a so-called Super User with the rare authority to have total knowledge of the department’s intelligence workings — became overwhelmed at the amount of information being dumped on him in his first briefing, threw up his hands and yelled, “Stop!”
  • Because of the crushing bureaucratic secrecy surrounding the homeland security, counterterrorism and intelligence mission — secrecy that in some cases undermines the chain of command — nobody knows exactly how much it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs it has or how many of those programs are redundant.

The Post’s article raises good questions about whether the government — desperate to show results after the Sept. 11 sneak attack — has grown its counterterrorism apparatus so large that it risks collapsing under its own weight. “These are not academic questions,” Priest and Arkin write. “Lack of focus, not lack of resources, was at the heart of the Fort Hood shooting that left 13 dead, as well as the Christmas Day bomb attempt thwarted not by the thousands of analysts employed to find lone terrorists but by an alert airline passenger who saw smoke coming from his seatmate.”

The intelligence community is already firing back at the Post. Acting Director of National Intelligence David Gompert this morning released a statement saying “The reporting does not reflect the intelligence community we know,” but did not challenge any of the article’s specific findings. And last week, someone in the intel community leaked an ODNI memo to the Washington Times that expressed concern that the Post was going to reveal sensitive information. (The Times published the memo under the headline, “Is Wash Post harming intelligence work?” drawing dozens of frothing, angry comments.)

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DHS wants “disposable” direct hire authority

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The Office of Personnel Management tends to look askance at agencies’ requests for direct hire authority to fill critical needs. OPM asks for reams of information and has some quite specific guidelines for agencies that want to sidestep the normal federal hiring process.

The Homeland Security Department, looking to hire federal employees to fill jobs currently done by contractors as part of the government “insourcing” initiative, is trying to tweak the system a bit in order to fill critical needs, DHS chief human capital officer Jeffrey Neal said yesterday at a congressional hearing.

DHS is asking OPM for something it calls “disposable direct hire authority,” meaning that DHS would fill positions via direct hire only once — to find someone to replace a contractor employee — and then go back to the normal process. Neal said DHS is “in talks” with OPM director John Berry about this proposal, which Neal sees as an innovative way to accelerate insourcing without compromising federal hiring practices too much.

The Obama administration’s push for federal hiring reform may be a key determinant of whether the parallel push to bring certain jobs back to federal employees is successful. “It’s clear the federal hiring process is one of the obstacles” to insourcing, Neal said.

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Kerik gets 4 years in prison; lied during DHS vetting

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kerik jpgFormer New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik was sentenced today to 48 months in prison. Kerik pleaded guilty to eight felonies, including lying to the White House as he was being considered to be secretary of the Homeland Security Department. According to the Associated Press:

Kerik was Giuliani’s police commissioner when New York City was attacked, and he was praised worldwide for his leadership. At Giuliani’s urging, he was nominated to the top Homeland Security post in 2004. It was the peak of his fast-rising career — as corruption allegations began to mount.

Kerik said in court that while being vetted for that position, he falsely denied that he had any financial dealings with anyone doing business with New York City. He said he also lied when he claimed he had specifically refused payments that were offered.

In truth, he said, he had accepted renovations of his Bronx apartment from a company seeking city work.

Those apartment renovations were the focus of the original corruption charge, which alleged that Kerik accepted the renovations in exchange for vouching for the company. Kerik did not admit that.

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Colbert to Napolitano: ‘Does the Secret Service have clipboard technology?’

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For your Friday enjoyment, faux TV pundit Stephen Colbert ribs Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about the White House gate crashers, al Qaida, immigration enforcement and swine flu:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Janet Napolitano
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorU.S. Speedskating

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House Appropriations approves two bills

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The House Appropriations Committee approved the Homeland Security and Legislative Branch fiscal year 2010 appropriations draft bills at a markup Friday.

The Homeland Security bill provides $42.63 billion for the agency, compared to President Barack Obama’s $42.83 billion request for fiscal year 2010. In 2009, the agency received $39.98 billion.

The bill cuts $135 million requested for agency operations due to “staffing vacancies, redundant policy initiatives and poorly justified request to consolidate DHS headquarters for those agencies not moving to St. Elizabeths,” according to a committee news release.

The bill includes:

  • $10 billion for Customs and Border Protection, $82 million less than Obama requested, due to slight cuts in funding requests for multiple programs. This is $147 million more than the 2009 funding.
  • $5.4 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, $30 million less than the president’s request but $439 million more than 2009.
  • $382 million for cybersecurity, $19 million less than the president requested and $68 million more than 2009.

The committee also approved the $3.7 billion draft bill to fund the Legislative Branch, $300 million than requested but $600 million more than 2009.

The bill includes:

  • $559 million for the Government Accountability Office, $9 million less than the president’s request and $28 million more than 2009.
  • $45 million for the Congressional Budget Office, $1.2 million less than Obama requested and $1 million more than 2009.

The House plans to take up the Homeland Security bill Friday and the Legislative Branch bill June 24.

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Critics: Thumbs down for "Homeland Security" TV show

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The reviews are in for ABC’s new reality show “Homeland Security USA,” and they are not kind. The “COPS”-like docudrama program, which follows real Border Patrol agents, Customs and Border Protection officers and transportation security officers at their jobs, is being called little more than a recruitment video for the Homeland Security Department.

The New York Times said that the show doesn’t even touch on many issues challenging the department, such as mismanagement, privacy concerns, or corruption. Instead, “Homeland Security USA” shows Customs officers searching through a belly dancer’s skimpy outfits.

Critics say the show’s substance-free exchanges, along with heart-tugging voice overs, give the impression that all is well with our nation’s security. But a quick glance at the dozens of reports released last year by the Government Accountability Office shows that’s not the case.

The most damning assessment probably comes from Slate’s review:

That Michelle Malkin and Daily Kos have come together in prejudging the show as propaganda might be a sign of the very apocalypse that DHS is supposed to thwart.

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