Dear DomPrep Readers,
On Wednesday, January 1, 2020, I published a six month review along with a publisher message. I received a thought provoking reply from Mr. James Rush that I need to share with you. Jim is very well known and respected in the Emergency Management arena and is a frequent contributor to DomPrep.
I agree with his five points and ask if you agree as well. Please find a link to a flash poll that I encourage you to take. Please feel free to forward this email to your colleagues to also get their input. Let me know if you find this useful.
Poll: Federal Agencies in Disaster
Martin D. (Marty) Masiuk, Founder & Publisher
Hi Mr. Masiuk,
That was a wonderful Publisher's Message you wrote. I thought I’d put down some ideas of how federal agencies got to the point where an employee survey would produce such dismal results.
I started my career as Air Force Medical Service Corps (MSC) Officer and later as an Army civilian employee, in charge of medical reserve stocks in Europe for wartime and humanitarian use (stationed in Germany). When I came back to America in 1991, it was clear to me that those in leadership positions at HHS, FEMA, and later DHS was predominately filled with academics rather than operations folks. After thinking about our leadership deficiencies, I came to the following conclusions regarding the current state of leadership at federal agencies.
After World War II, and throughout the Cold War, many of the returning men and woman used the GI Bill to get their college education and then brought their operations and leadership experience along with their education to government positions at state and federal levels of the health and emergency management career fields. These are the folks who supported our service members in European and in the Pacific areas of operations. They knew how to care for mass casualties, build bridges, institute public health programs, and assemble/disassemble mobile hospitals in both theaters of operations. This generation developed our Civil Defense enterprise associated with the Cold War. The World War II leaders began retiring in the 1970s.
Many of us, in the Vietnam generation (my generation) were trained by the World War II veterans who knew how to build entire emergency management enterprises and develop preparedness, response, and recovery systems. We either did a poor job training the next generation or we weren’t allowed to recruit and train them. As we began retiring, it seems that operations leaders were replaced with folks from “think tanks” or universities. These folks are good people with advanced degrees, but little experience in operations, logistics, maintenance, communications, and inventory systems.
Over the years, federal regulations and processes have made leaders’ duties more difficult and, in many cases, fraught with danger. If a leader begins taking official administrative action on an employee for substandard performance, the leader may be charged with unfair or discriminatory management practices. Just a charge of wrongdoing may cast a shadow on a leader, or worse, end the leader’s career. While fear of taking required management action to remedy performance issues is not an excuse for not doing the right thing, it does exist and I believe it adversely affects employee morale.
From what I have witnessed and read over the past 20 years, I believe federal agencies have evolved to view themselves as “advisory” organizations. As such, they are not capable of building robust response systems, or deploying their members into disaster locations to set up, operate, and expand resilient infrastructure systems. Federal infrastructure systems need to cope with maturing disasters and expand their services until the jurisdiction’s infrastructure recovers and returns to full service. I don’t know how federal agencies plan to meet their Emergency Support Function (ESF) missions outlined in the National Response Framework.
Imagine sending HHS, FEMA, and DHS personnel to manage the aftermath of a nationwide disaster like a multi-terrorist cell attack on critical infrastructure elements of the United States. I know that laws like the Stafford Act, restrict services federal agencies can provide. However, we have to remember that laws can be changed to fit the current realities. Congress needs to expand the missions of agencies tasked in the National Response Plan ESFs to include standing up jurisdictions that have been significantly damaged during any disaster and maintaining them until they recover.
I think many of the challenges federal agencies face today, reflected in the 2019 OPM employee survey, are self-inflicted. I don’t see anything on the horizon that offers a solution to the overall negative morale of federal employees.