State-Level Experience Valuable Asset for Members of New Administration

April 23, 2009
By Henry Kenyon

CHICAGO - Juliette Kayyem, assistant secretary for intergovernmental programs, DHS, led off Thursday afternoon's interactions at the National Conference on Emergency Communications. Kayyem came to the federal government from her position with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts where she was the governor's go-to person for homeland security.

Kayyem began her presentation talking about Janet Napolitano, DHS secretary, and the benefit of having a former governor in that leadership position. "Napolitano began with a directive to determine how to integrate state and federal policies," she said. This helped Kayyem and the department understand what everyone needs and does. Demanding that states go through the DHS to get work done will not work, Kayyem added. The issue, however, is if the people and the resources spent within the states and localities are being helpful.

"The culture of integration has to be institutionalized within the department [DHS]," Kayyem said. Help is needed from the public safety community to make sure the DHS is on track with this goal, she stated.

The emergency response community is large and disparate, Kayyem noted, and this is a challenge. The second challenge, however, is the fiscal crisis individual agencies are experiencing; localities will have very little tolerance of instructions from the federal level that does not include financial support, and the DHS has to be sympathetic to this.

Strategically, federal, state and local planning requires meetings such as this conference, Kayyem noted, and this interaction needs to be modeled throughout the DHS because discussions promote understanding. "It's hard to be sympathetic about the crash if you haven't been invited to the take-off," Kayyem said.

She emphasized that public safety entities may not think of themselves as political, but they actually are part of political entities. This often leads to miscommunication because political leaders do not understand what the public safety sector needs. DHS needs to determikne how it can empower these organizations, she said.

Referring to her experience at the state level, Kayyem stated, "After a while, my interaction with [public safety] groups made me realize that if I couldn't tell a story about how we would spend a certain amount of money, the project would fail terribly. Although there were a lot of nice pieces of the state interoperability plan, it was not clear if there was a story to explain it adequately to the governor," she stated. This narrative is necessary for everyone to understand the common mission and common capability.

"We need to make interoperability a primary issue and get it up front. We've talked about it for a long time, and we know that the problems are 10 percent or 20 percent technology. Now we're working on the governance, which will make the job of bringing attention to interoperability easier," she said.

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