California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Matthew Bettenhausen in March 2005 to serve as the state’s homeland security office director. A native of Chicago, Bettenhausen had previously done the same job in Illinois, along with a stint as the first director of state and territorial coordination for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Bettenhausen’s varied background includes twelve years as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice and an undergraduate degree in accountancy, but the underlying unifier of his career is a penchant for community service, starting with his upbringing in a family of firefighters. (His remarks have been edited to accommodate the magazine’s space limitations.)
@ Read the full interview online.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced since taking the job?
It’s not a single thing. It’s the broader challenge of making sure you have a systematic approach that requires coordination across different levels of government, and across different specialties and professions in terms of their responsibilities for prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery.
The spectrum of first responders starts with the individual citizen. It moves on to the first responders as business owners. With large or private enterprises, some have the traditional first-responder capability, such as police and fire and EMS. Then there is local government, where you have to make sure you are integrating your public works and private and public utilities. Then you start looking at different levels of government, from cities to special districts, to county, state, and federal agencies.
That coordination is a challenge—making sure you’re bringing everybody along. It’s such a broad area with many intricate parts.
It’s also a challenge to make sure everyone understands the urgency of the mission. A great thing about Americans is that we have enormous resiliency. We have a tremendous capacity to put disasters behind us and move forward. But with that capability sometimes comes the ability to forget the magnitude of the challenges ahead and the dangers there.
Another challenge, particularly in the terrorism area, is that there are a lot of prevention successes. It’s a challenge to get the message out that we’re succeeding. What you hear day-in and day-out is critique and criticism. But some things are working, such as our coordinated efforts, and there have been sea changes in the way people do business. But risk remains: It’s going to happen. You can’t bat a thousand.
What would you most like to achieve in the department in the coming year?
The governor initiated our state and regional information fusion centers. California was a little behind some other states, but ahead of many others. We’ve put together a comprehensive program in terms of integrating it across the state, county, and federal levels.
We put our four regional centers with the four FBI field offices with the four JTTFs [Joint Terrorism Task Forces]. That helped overcome a lot of issues. That makes sure it’s a collaborative effort. We’re still growing that. The State Joint Regional Information Center in Los Angeles will hopefully be opening in June. Sacramento, San Diego, and the Bay area will open up hopefully during the course of the rest of the year.
California is fortunate to be working with the Department of Homeland Security as a pilot state for rolling out the secure homeland security information network, so we can get off the Department of Defense’s system.
We want to continue to grow our terrorism liaison officer program, where we train folks to be liaison officers, particularly in law enforcement, but also in both the first-responder and private sector communities.
We want to continue on with our security guard training. They are required to get eight hours of certification here in California. Four of those are dedicated to terrorism awareness. And it also requires us to build on broader information sharing with other first-responder partners and the private sector. We have more work to do on that.
It’s been a challenge for DHS. Those are challenges we are meeting. We have good relationships, but they need to be more robust. In the infrastructure protection area, we have aggressively moved. We are piloting and driving the Automated Critical Asset Management System, getting information in there so that when first responders pull up to a building they have information. That’s a long-term process. We are also reinvigorating the department’s Protective Critical Infrastructure Information program. All of that is going statewide.
We want to be more effective in grants management, but our real challenge and priority is getting grant monies restored. I’ve been out to Washington, I’ve been working with the California delegation, and we have been working with the Department of Homeland Security.
Last year they cut some $800 million out of grants to state and local governments, and another $600 million in cuts are proposed for Fiscal Year 2007. We need to get those funds restored. Katrina emphasized there is much more we need to get done. Now is not the time to cut funding for our first responders.
What kind of cooperation do you get from the federal government?
I think you have to have two different views of the federal government. There’s a Washington, D.C., view of the federal government, and there is the federal government out in the field. There is a much better cooperative, collaborative, working relationship that happens outside the Beltway than that which happens inside.
Are there any changes in the relationship with the federal government you’d like to see? what would you want to change? one director told me he’d like a seat at the table in the planning stage to have more of a say.
You’ll find that’s a uniformly expressed concern. There’s kind of the view from D.C. that we’re a bunch of country bumpkins out here who haven’t thought of things before. We’ve been at this a long time. I’m not saying there might not be new, brilliant breakthroughs, but if I were to venture a guess, I would say they were going to come from the field—from the bottom up, not from D.C. down.
Before they come up with these ideas, they ought to be working with all of the state homeland security directors in a more collaborative way.
Let me give a perfect example: the risk allocation formula that they used with Urban Area Security Initiative this year. I’m not impressed they did three billion calculations, as they assert, when common sense tells you they didn’t get the right answer.
And you know common sense says you weren’t measuring risk accurately when your sixth and seventh largest cities in the country—Phoenix, Arizona, and San Diego, California—fall off the list. I think you have a problem when you look at East Coast versus West Coast and there is an East Coast bias, because Las Vegas, San Diego, Phoenix, and Sacramento fall off the list, but you start adding more cities on the East Coast. There must be something wrong with the formula.
On the funding side, what does the federal government give you, and what are the department’s other sources of funding?
We have the state homeland security grant program—that’s primarily where you find the state funding for state agencies and needs. We get our 20 percent. That program has been slashed in half this fiscal year. We don’t yet know what our new allocation will be. But the program went from $1 billion to half that.
Our share was $134 million for the state last year—80 percent of that goes to our local partners. Twenty percent of that, or $26 million, was for supporting state agency and statewide efforts for homeland security preparedness. The individual budget for our office for those six core function areas is in the range of $7 million. Now is not the time to be reducing the financial support allocated for our first responders.
Can you talk a little about how you are involving and working with businesses to share intelligence, develop counterterrorism strategies, and prepare for emergency response in california?
Counties such as San Diego, L.A., and Orange have been leaders in putting together homeland security advisory councils that have business leaders on them.
Individually here in California we have been working with BENS [Business Executives for National Security] to develop our own in-state infrastructure, and enlist them more in being involved in strategic national stockpiles, the pharmaceutical stockpile distribution, better information sharing, resource typing, and inventorying of what the private sector can provide.
Governor Schwarzenegger signed legislation out here last fall (S.B. 546–which promotes better cooperation and coordination with private business in emergency response). Our private sector partners have a lot of robust capabilities not only in terms of restoring their own services but also in terms of logistics and bringing important commodities into devastated areas, including water, food, and electric generators. We’re trying to make sure we are tapping those talents and resources as best we can in an integrated fashion within the overall local and state planning.