Looking forward: How todayís biggest issues will unfold in 2010
There probably won’t be many tears shed as we bid farewell to the “aughts,” but the decade’s legacies won’t pass with the New Year. I’m not big on predictions, but it is worth looking ahead to some pending issues in 2010.
This image, taken through a microscope and provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, shows the H1N1 strain of the swine flu virus.
So far the H1N1 pandemic has not proved as severe as many of its predecessors, although it has had a disproportionate impact on certain segments of the population. It also has given agencies from the international to the local levels, as well as hospitals and businesses, a chance to test all those plans that were so long in development (yes, Virginia, plans themselves actually can be useful), validate updates made between the April outbreak and the fall peak, and now a relative lull in which to evaluate and update yet again in preparation for what may come next.
Questions: What will come next? Will we see a third wave (with the understanding that H1N1 has never quite left the Northern Hemisphere since the outbreak)? Will the difficulties in manufacturing and distributing H1N1 vaccine finally sound the long-awaited death knell for egg-based vaccine production? Will we see (are we seeing?) a lapse into complacency on the part of the public, government and business “now that we’ve had our pandemic”?
Clockwise from top-left: Christine Wormuth, Dr. Nicole Lurie, David Heyman and Dr. Tara OíToole
New blood gets in gear
Since President Obama took office, we’ve seen several promising appointments to key sub-cabinet positions that have a direct bearing on emergency management.
Christine Wormuth, whose policy recommendations with Anne Witkowsky in Managing the Next Catastrophe have been reviewed in Homeland1, is Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs. Several of her policy recommendations either have been adopted (merging the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council) or may be in the works.
Dr. Nicole Lurie, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Department of Health and Human Services, is well known in the field. Her focus on measurable improvement in public health, practical approach demonstrated in her numerous publications and experience as a primary-care provider, maintain the practitioner’s integrity of her predecessor, Rear Adm. Dr. Craig Vanderwagon.
Dr. Tara O’Toole, Under Secretary for Science and Technology, Department of Homeland Security, has been extensively involved in health preparedness, domestic preparedness and national policy development for years. She brings a scientist’s perspective to a DHS directorate that is starting to flex its muscles in capability development for first responders.
David Heyman has demonstrated a cogent approach to a range of preparedness policy issues and thus seems well suited to be DHS’s Assistant Secretary for Policy.
These four individuals are not the only capable appointees in the preparedness realm, but they do have impressive pedigrees and definitely are ones to watch. Their experience at the federal policy level ranges from extensive to moderate; all are capable, creative and motivated. I’d like to think that their appointments signal a desire for an evidence-based approach within the current administration.
Questions: Will these people be able to convert good ideas and intellectual integrity into functional policy? Can DHS earn the trust of first responders and emergency managers, and the public they protect? Will another of Wormuth’s solid recommendations, making the Target Capabilities List more realistic, take hold in DHS?
FEMA Chief Craig Fugate (AP photo)
The closing decade has not been a good one for FEMA. Years of questionable strategy and even more questionable management (predating and following FEMA’s incorporation into DHS) led to plummeting morale, lack of direction and poor performance.
Regardless of where FEMA falls on the federal org chart, its presence as a functional contributor and leader is essential to an effective national preparedness structure. That’s not to say that state, tribal and local emergency management providers are helpless without FEMA – they’ve had to get by for a few years, and disasters will always be primarily local – but we are all better off with a credible FEMA.
New Administrator Craig Fugate has credibility within the discipline, has an appropriate philosophy, and so far has said the right things, but years of problems can’t be reversed overnight.
Questions: Where will FEMA be at the end of 2010? H.R. 1174 (a/k/a the FEMA Independence Act), which was reported by committee for full House consideration, would pull FEMA back out of DHS, re-establishing it as an independent, cabinet-level department. Regardless of whether people consider that ideologically or operationally desirable, another reorganization is bound to consume substantial resources and could easily push other pressing matters to the side in the short term.
Fugate recently announced a reorganization within FEMA to “more closely align FEMA’s form with its functions.” Even if H.R. 1174 does not pass, and he thus doesn’t have that to deal with a separation from DHS right away, will he be able to maintain his nascent “recovery” program for his agency?