Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Reader Comment 08-10-09 QHSR

Monday evening Laurie, a reader from University of Findlay (Ohio) and active in the maritime security field, added her comments to my blog on the completion of the first QHSR Dialogue. She made three interesting points: #1: The “website was evidently not sophisticated enough to accept a cut-and-paste from Word.” There are a number of people that routinely use off-line word processing programs (most commonly Word® as I am sure the people in Seattle are proud to note) to formulate postings to public web sites. I certainly count myself in that number. It aids in the processes of refining and editing ones work and making sure that the idea is being recorded in a recognizable manner. The lack of editing tools like ‘spell check’ and ‘grammar check’ certainly contributed to some of the more confusing ideas posted to the site. It is really a shame when people, myself included, think that a web site managed by the National Academy of Public Administration is ‘not sophisticated enough’. But, there were so many operational problems associated with this website, that DHS needs to reconsider taking the web site in-house. The team that does the work on the CFATS tools (for example) could do a much more professional job. I know that there was some initial concern that sharing even marginally personally identifying information with a DHS registration could stifle some of the participation. The amount of information on each poster openly displayed on the NAPA run site, however, would certainly allow for ‘swift DHS retaliation’ if such were actually in the plans. #2: “I wish we could have had some input at an earlier stage - I'm not sure the mission areas reflect the depth of DHS' many functions.” Laurie was not the only person that I heard this complaint from. The six discussion topics were overly broad and provided a great deal of overlap between the many functions found in DHS. Furthermore, there was nothing to tie the topics back to specific functions within the Department. Thus, Laurie could find nothing concerning MTSA issues and I could find no reference to chemical facility security. I understand that the focus of the Dialogue is on ‘mission, goals and priorities’, but according to the Dialogue Flyer the QHSR is a “congressionally-mandated, top-to-bottom review of Homeland Security policies and priorities will guide the Department and the nation for the next four years.” If the participants in the Dialogue cannot not find references to the programs that they work with on a daily basis, then this is not a ‘top-to-bottom review’. At best it is high-level review of the guiding philosophy of the Department. That would be better than no public participation, but it is not what was advertised. #3: “I thought it amazing that no definitions were offered for key terms.” I’ll defer to Laurie on explaining the importance of this comment:
“’Operational’ can [mean] one thing to a federal agency and quite another to local law enforcement. And in a profession where it's a fun ice breaker to ask people what they really mean by ‘homeland security’, and the regulations we all live and die by are incomplete without definitions sections, I am deeply uneasy relying on what I THINK a term means. Definitions don't impede the conversation; they give us focus and clarity.”
While I am generally supportive of the QHSR Dialogue, I do hope that the Department and NAPA take a good hard look at the format of their discussion and how that plays into the interaction of ideas that they are looking for. The Study Groups will go back and look at the details of the ‘ideas’ presented and discussed in the first Dialogue. I hope that the site managers use the same type of ‘iterative process’ to refine the background for the Dialogue.

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