Retiring Director, Office of Domestic Preparedness, Department of Homeland Security
It was a long way from the public schoolswhere she taught Spanish to the directorship of the Department ofHomeland Security’s Office of Domestic Preparedness (ODP) but C.Suzanne Mencer made the journey by way of 20 years as a special agentof the FBI and executive director of the Colorado Department of PublicSafety.
On Dec. 16 Mencer announced her retirement from ODP.
As director, she was responsible for helpingstates, localities, regional authorities and tribal governmentsprevent, prepare for and respond to acts of terrorism. Under ODP’sumbrella, she administered a budget of over $4 billion, encompassing 25programs that help equip, train and exercise first responders andhomeland security officials.
HSToday Editor David Silverbergsat down with Mencer prior to her resignation to discuss the changesand challenges facing the homeland security grant program in2005—challenges and changes that will remain for her successor.
HSTODAY: What should we expect in 2005?
MENCER: Certainly, witheach year that we have money for homeland security purposes, we getbetter. The “we” is a collective “we.” We get better at the nationallevel in issuing grant guidance, we get better at the state and locallevels in terms of how to apply, what kinds of things they need, theirrequests, threats, vulnerabilities—the things they want toprotect—they’re better at defining those.
I think we have gotten better with each year,and we’ll continue to get better each year. This is a much betterprocess than it was last year, and I think the states will see that aswe look at ways to streamline this grants process, ways to combineapplications of grants so they have only one application, whereasbefore they had three. So it is that kind of thing we’ll continue towork on so they will see a better process, a more sophisticated processwith each year.
HSTODAY: What changes are there in ODP and the grant process?
MENCER: We have verylittle money that I would term discretionary. It is $4 billion, but itis not our $4 billion, it is the states’ and locals’ $4 billion, sothat is important to remember. We don’t have a lot of money to give outto companies that think they have a good product or to just a statethat might have something they just want to promote. They can use theirstate money for all kinds of things, and we look at what they want,look at what they request and make sure that what they have requestedcoincides with what they themselves have defined in their statestrategies as their goals and objectives for their state. So we do haveaccountability attached to these grants as well. That’s important.
HSTODAY: What is the relationship between ODP and the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness (OSLGCP)?
MENCER: The secretarycombined the two offices together [Office of Domestic Preparedness andthe Office of State and Local Coordination and Preparedness] andcreated the very long title—which is no acronym that is pronounceable.We are all still the same, but now under one umbrella. That was donebecause the secretary wanted to emphasize the importance of therelationship with the state and locals and also emphasize how criticalhe felt the grant process was to homeland security by moving our officeof ODP as a direct report to the secretary, whereas previously ODP wasunder Asa Hutchinson and Border and Transportation Security. So itemphasized that need to make sure the funding got to the appropriateplaces and it emphasized his interest in making sure that happened.
What combining these offices did is to createwhat the secretary had envisioned in the “one-stop shop,” and that isto give the states and locals one place to go for all their answers,grant applications, for anything they needed in applications, grants,training and exercises, which is also what we do.
HSTODAY: What does thatmean for the review process of an individual grant application—or doesit mean anything at all? Does it mean that one set of managers reviewseach application, or a different set of managers?
MENCER: No, the same setof managers reviews it that has reviewed it in the past. Combining thetwo offices formalized what had already taken place, and that is a veryclose coordination between our state and local coordination office,which deals with state and local homeland security advisors and stateadministrative agencies on a regular basis, and the office here, which,of course, works with the states and locals and deals with the grantprocesses and the training and exercise programs. It was something wewere already doing; we just formalized it.
HSTODAY: What is the status of the state strategies?
MENCER: State strategieswere submitted in January 2004. The deadline was originally December,but we gave them a little more time to get it together, and they canreview those and make changes if they think it necessary. But thosestrategies were approved by their governors, and it is a livingdocument, as I think all strategies should be—you’re not going to keepit the same and static.
I think all the states now are getting betterat doing this process. They’re looking at what they’ve spent theirdollars on in past years and figuring out where the needs still existand they’re getting better at filling those needs. I think what we’veseen as we’ve looked at the state strategies is an emphasis in eachstate and territory on their interoperability issues, theircommunication issues, and I think those are two big ones that — if wecan solve those two things — we will have solved a lot in this country.At the scene of every disaster, whether manmade or natural,communications is always an issue, interoperability, sharing ofinformation; those are things that transcend what kind of an event itis. So, whatever we do in our homeland security efforts will help witheverything else, even on a day-to-day basis, with local crime. Justthat communication piece is huge.
HSTODAY: How will you further refine the system? Any new initiatives?
MENCER: We’re alwayslooking for better ways to do things, so whenever we talk to our stateand local folks out there, then listen to their ideas, suggestions,their thoughts about how to streamline it, how to make it better forthem, we’ll always look for new ideas. We don’t have all the answers asmuch as we’d like to think within this beltway. I think that I need tostress that this is not a federal program; this is a national program.Preparedness is a national effort, and it requires input from theinformation, the intelligence of every single individual out there whowants to protect the homeland. So we want to make sure we’re inclusive.That’s why we have our Citizen Corps program, our Ready program.Citizens are as much a part of this making America secure as anyoneelse, and we want to make sure that they know what to do in a time ofemergency, as well.
Just as we are always looking for better waysto do the grant process, I’m always looking for better ways across theboard to do business at ODP, whether that is training or exercises.We’re in the middle now of planning for our next TOPOFF—TopOfficials—exercise, which will be in April of ’05, and that is amultinational effort. We’ll have Canada and Great Britain in with us onthat exercise. That is huge. We have two states, New Jersey andConnecticut, who are players. We are actively involved with them ingetting all the little mini-exercises that lead up to the big oneunderway, so that is a huge effort.
I’ve worked very closely with the fireservice to make sure we’ve met their needs, because we acquired thefederal FIRE Act grants and we wanted to make sure that is a smoothtransition, and it has been a great effort on everyone’s part.
ODP is an organization that services many,and the first responder community and everyone who has a part to playin homeland security is in some way touched by ODP. And I see us as aservice organization. We’re out there to make it easier for them tohave the tools they need to do the job of protecting the homeland.
It is a collaborative effort, and we needinput from every individual and entity that is out there. A lot of thegroups out there never hesitate to give us their input, but there aremany we would like to have dialogues with and continue dialogues withso we do know what the needs are and address those.
We’re working with non-profits this year forthe first time. The non-profit community is excited about that, and wedo have competitive grants as well, and we have competitive traininggrants, and we were able to distribute 14 of those this year. And thoseindividuals and entities that applied for those filled niches that wereout there that I hadn’t thought of, like educating the nursingcommunity in weapons of mass destruction, things like that that weregreat, and very creative thought processes going on out there, and itis great when they all come together and support those efforts.
HSTODAY: Do these changesmean anything for threat-based allocations? That’s congressionalresponsibility, but is there any echo or precursor of that in thegranting process?
MENCER: This year, as weget ready to roll out our Urban Area Security Initiative grants, wehave better data than we have ever had before in determining: What isan urban area? Where are our greatest risks and vulnerabilities and ourcritical infrastructures? We have had tremendous input from theintelligence community concerning threats and vulnerabilities. So thatmakes a lot of difference when we look at these grant applications andthese grant areas that we’ll be focusing on.
We have gotten better at defining what needsto be protected, and then states have gotten better at defining howthey’re going to protect those areas. Again, it is a very collaborativeeffort, but I’m very pleased this year with the effort in the federalcommunity with refining this process more than it was last year, andlast year’s was better than the year before. Each year we getbetter—we’ll probably be better next year. This year was an outstandingeffort and very good data that we assembled. HST
Retiring Director, Office of Domestic Preparedness, Department of Homeland Security