In the past, readiness simply meant the status of U.S. military might. Today, however, national security readiness requires a much broader definition that includes not only conventional defense but also homeland security. If the U.S. persists in restricting the discussion only to the state of military readiness, it will present a false view of where the nation stands.
The discussion of readiness certainly includes the military, but it also includes the intelligence community; federal, state, and local law enforcement; and non-law enforcement first responders such as EMTs, firefighters, and private-sector security personnel. Intelligence has made the most progress; law enforcement still requires additional vertical integration; and other responders remain too disjointed.
- The intelligence community. The intelligence community contributes more to national readiness than ever before. There is an unprecedented level of integration, which is efficient and saves money by lessening redundancy and adding greater depth of analysis. There is no need for multiple agencies to collect the same information, but several organizations analyzing a situation from different angles can give policymakers a broader range of options. Yet a cultural fight lingers between proponents of new ways of thinking and some very old-school turf defenders. Those who long for a return to the primacy and dominance of the CIA need to recognize that this will not happen. The U.S. fields a truly national intelligence structure that includes agencies across the needed disciplines, and it is working.
The good news is that maturity and progress are prevailing, and intelligence is becoming more of an asset every day. However, the Administration should continue to push for integration and break down all remaining stovepipes. Particularly amid budget reductions, a leaner and more efficient intelligence community can be leveraged to offset cuts elsewhere. The more U.S. leaders know about the hostile world that surrounds us, the better they can protect America from such hostilities. But if the readiness budget is cut too much, the nation suffers.
- Federal, state, and local law enforcement. The law enforcement community is huge and diverse, and it is a key to homeland security readiness in ways it was not pre-9/11. The line between national security in the international context and homeland security in the domestic context is not just blurred—it has been obliterated. Today, a local cop on the beat is just as likely as a major CIA or FBI operation to find a clue that leads to thwarting a terrorist plot.
There is, however, unevenness in law enforcement readiness. Big-city police forces such as the NYPD and the LAPD are robust and add greatly to overall readiness. Unfortunately, other municipalities are far less ready. There is a need for more vertical integration among federal, state, and local entities, and there must be better leveraging of the all parts of this crucial community to ensure that state and local law enforcement have a seat at the table. Likewise, more must be done to ensure that information sharing among law enforcement works both ways, so that state and local law enforcement is not only sending information to the federal government but receiving it as well.
- Non-law enforcement first responders. The capabilities of non-law enforcement responders are much greater than they were pre-9/11. They have improved communications and have established mutual support agreements that allow for sharing assets. They have begun to develop a culture of realistic exercises and detailed planning that never existed before, and they are also major contributors to the readiness of the nation.
Yet like their law enforcement counterparts, capabilities vary widely. No federal agency needs to try to align all the first responders in the country, however; vertical integration should stay within the individual states. Non-law enforcement first responders should develop routine communication with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s regional leadership so that everyone knows their counterparts before any disaster, man-made or natural, occurs.
It is unclear to what extent this Administration will use readiness as a bill payer for domestic entitlement programs. Lower discretionary funding levels will almost certainly limit new programs but could lead to more efficiency and cooperation. At the least, a baseline of funding should be maintained.
National readiness is more complicated today than ever before. It is only by the continued evaluation and integration of all these elements that America’s real level of readiness can be determined. All those who serve are ready to protect America, but maintaining a proper level of readiness is not a foregone conclusion. It must be funded and developed in new, updated ways.