Can you give readers a sense of what the job as director of homeland security for the state of New Mexico consists of? What are your primary responsibilities? What is a typical day or week like?
It’s a classic counterterrorism mission. At the same time, we also have responsibility for all-hazards emergency management: preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation for emergencies and disasters, regardless of cause. So I might be working on airport security issues, then a couple minutes later meeting with incident managers on a wildland fire that is threatening a community in the mountains of New Mexico.
What would you say is the number one priority of homeland security in the state?
Our number one homeland security problem is border security. That’s what I spend the majority of my time on right now. We are finally seeing increased attention from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Congress. And as more resources are given to the border patrol, we’ll be able to expand our focus and put more efforts towards the other priorities, such as interoperable communications and all-source intelligence fusion.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced since taking the job?
Probably trying to break down the boundaries of long-established levels of government and long-established programs. Interoperable communication is an example. It is talked about frequently as either being a technical problem or one of planning. And that is true. But the bigger problem is that there is 20, 30, 50 years’ worth of significant capital investment by different levels of government and different political jurisdictions into their own proprietary systems.
What are some of the other top issues your department focuses on?
One other issue we are looking at is the augmentation of special response teams to maximize the use of the very limited federal dollars and state dollars, but also being able to enhance, augment, and make permanent special response capabilities throughout the state in a regional fashion, so that we have heavy urban search-and-rescue resources quickly available for any potential location in the state. We are geographically one of the largest states in the country. It’s a full day’s drive from one side to the other. So to have one special team in the state isn’t really adequate here. What might work for Rhode Island, or Vermont, or most of the eastern states, doesn’t necessarily work well in the west, just because of the geographic distances and our topography.
What are your goals for the department in the coming year? What would you most like to achieve?
I would say to continue to try to push nationally for a breaking down of the walls we have built in the last few years.
Things might even be worse off in some cases than they were pre-9-11, because we have given a group of people a lot of money and told them to fix this, and they’ve done it. But they’ve done so much in such a short time that they did not talk to the other group of people who were given the same directive. We need to start undoing a little bit of what we have done, and reintegrate emergency management and homeland security and law enforcement and all the different pieces.
What kind of cooperation do you get from the federal government?
That depends what part of the federal government we’re talking about. We get very good cooperation from certain parts of the federal government. We had really good cooperation out of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) regions for a good long time. We continue to, but it does seem from time to time that the FEMA regions are increasingly excluded by [Washington] D.C. from decision-making and operational information. That is something I hope gets changed and fixed.
What kind of changes would you like to see in that relationship with the feds?
What I’d really like to see changed is the level of coordination and cooperation. It can’t be a purely federally driven mission, with occasional consultation or passing of information to the state. And by the same token, it can’t just be a local government and local law enforcement thing.
What funding does the federal government give you, and what are the department’s other sources of funding?
We had a 62 percent reduction in funding this year compared to last year. It’s an 83 percent reduction from 2003. So we are really seeing a drastic reduction in the federal funding available.
The governor has responded with an increase in state funding available to us. We are a small state, population-wise—1.8 million—so we don’t have the kind of budget and resources to be able to offset that reduction in federal funds, but we have taken huge steps over the last few years. I got a 100 percent increase in state staffing levels—that’s impressive in government. Governor (Bill) Richardson takes homeland security seriously.
Being a border state, having two of the key national nuclear weapons laboratories, we are an important piece of the national security fabric, no less so than California, New York, Washington, Connecticut, or Illinois. So what I think we need to see from DHS is a rational approach towards risk-based funding.
Even more important than the amount of funding is how we are allowed to use it. One of our national problems is the exponentially increasing workload and unchanging level of staffing. But states aren’t given the flexibility to use some of the federal funding to bring on people.
What do you think you would do if you had additional resources?
I would support local government personnel. I would support their capability to prepare for response.
You mentioned before that you don’t have an urban area security initiative city (uasi) in new mexico. which ones would you pick out if you had to?
Population-wise, it’s not up there. But in Albuquerque, there’s an Air Force base and the national laboratories, and it’s the first major population center with an international airport and transportation distribution network in proximity to an international border. So it’s probably the least-secured portion of the entire U.S.-Mexico border.
Someone has to show me why Albuquerque—with a nuclear weapons laboratory and its proximity to an international border—ranks less than Omaha, Nebraska. Not to say anything against my good friends in Nebraska.
And, of course, the other part is the metro areas: Las Cruces and Santa Teresa are essentially neighbors to El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. And all combined, we’re talking about a population approaching six to seven million people straddling a border. It’s the second or third highest-crossing border in the U.S., and I don’t believe any of those cities are UASI.
Can you talk about how you are involving or working with businesses in the state to share intelligence, develop counterterrorism strategies, and prepare for emergency response functions?
We formed a group a few years ago in collaboration with the private sector called the Private Sector Working Group. It’s an offshoot of the Homeland Security Advisory Committee, at the state level. We helped them get it formed, and what we did was transition the ownership and basically the maintenance to the private sector itself. They weren’t just people showing up at a meeting. They come up with recommendations for us, and we partner through them.
Our intelligence guy is going to be sitting down with that group to talk about their involvement in the state’s homeland security intelligence operations and how to establish clearances. We are also working towards the program rolled out in Manhattan where they have credentialed certain people in all the different sectors.
We have a really good relationship with our large utilities and our large manufacturing sectors. And, of course, agriculture is critical out here.