THE MAGAZINE

State Perspective - Colorado

By Joseph Straw

Maj. Gen. Mason C. Whitney (U.S. Air Force Reserve, retired) has served as director of the Colorado Governor’s Office of Homeland Security since February 2008. Previously, he was the state’s adjutant general and executive director of its Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Whitney’s 39-year military career included 343 combat missions as a forward air controller at Ban Me Thout Special Forces Camp, South Vietnam, flying the O-2A Skymaster over Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Whitney joined the Colorado Air National Guard in August 1979, and in 1990 was named commander of the 140th Tactical Fighter Wing. In 1998, Whitney was appointed Air National Guard assistant to the commander of Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, and was promoted to major general. Whitney’s military awards include the Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal with eight oak leaf clusters, the Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Vietnam Service Medal with four bronze stars, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm, and the Colorado Meritorious Service Medal.

 

Q. What are your office’s responsibilities?

A. The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security was essentially established in February of 2008 and we became operational July 1 of last year. I am the director, and that’s a cabinet-level position. I work directly for the governor. I am his homeland security advisor, and my office is the state administrative agency for the state of Colorado for federal homeland security funding.

Q. How was the state’s homeland security apparatus reorganized, and why?

Well, there’s been an evolution here in Colorado since the homeland security program started back in 2002. We started with everything under the state Department of Public Safety (DPS) under then-Public Safety Director Sue Mencer. And Sue had an extensive background with the FBI, and she served as both HSA and the SAA, and they ran the grants program and the state’s homeland security strategy out of her office.

They had some problems. Sue left and went to be director of the Office of Domestic Preparedness at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and so they had a new director come in, and had some problems with the grant administration program for the homeland security grants within DPS. So then they moved the grant program into the state Division of Emergency Management (DEM) under the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). The director of emergency management had responsibility for administering the federal Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) and DPS had responsibility for the Governor’s homeland security advisor position. And they kind of divided duties on who was supposed to build the homeland security strategy, and essentially that was finally delegated to DEM and the director of DEM built the first state homeland security strategy.

Then we had an audit in 2005 that essentially said our grants administration program was broken, that we had some funds that were not being properly executed in accordance with the grant guidance. The second finding was that our state homeland security strategy was ineffective and not accountable, and the third was that our organizational structure did not allow for integration and collaboration of all the homeland security missions, effectively it was in stovepipes and in many cases was divided among several different people as a part-time responsibility. So it was obviously not a very flattering report for the two main organizations responsible for homeland security, DPS and DOLA.

So fast-forward to 2007 when Gov. Ritter took office. One of the first things he was he was told was that the state’s homeland security program was broken and needed to be fixed. So he essentially went to members of his cabinet—I was one of them with the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs—and he asked for recommendations about where to place the homeland security program address all of the problems. After several recommendations were floated the governor favored one that essentially merged DEM into DPS so the entire homeland security program would be put back into DPS again, but that was resisted by many of the emergency managers within the state. So instead the Governor moved toward creating a transitional entity under his office. I had already told the governor that I planned to retire, and so he told me that I had another job waiting for me after I did.

So I retired from the military in May of 2007 and in August the governor asked me to come in as the homeland security coordinator for about a year. I told him I’d come in for him for a year on a year’s contract and essentially do a complete study of the state’s homeland security program, how it was being managed to include the grant funding programs and make recommendations to him at the end of that year about what needs to be done to fix the problems found in the audit.

So I brought in our ex-state auditor, Joanne Hill, and she and I basically comprised the beginnings of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, so to speak. We did a complete study. We took a team out and went out to all the regions and determined what their concerns were. After that I essentially built a new strategy that I felt would be more effective than the old one, which I thought really focused on target capabilities and capabilities-based emergency planning. We also recommended that the grants program receive additional staffing. And finally, we recommended a formal organizational change to create an office of homeland security working directly for the governor that would have the proper authority to be able to manage the homeland security programs and all the different departments and pieces and hold those agencies’ administrators, who we call “goal leaders,” accountable for implementing the strategy.

So effective Feb. 4, 2008, the governor signed an executive order that created the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, and then we put a budget in that would allow us to receive and spend federal funds. Down the road we may also receive some state general funds, probably around the years 2012-2014.

The first of July 2008 we became operational, and we’ve been working hard ever since to implement our new strategy and our grant management function. DHS has come in on two different monitoring visits and has been very complementary about what we’ve been doing. We had a state audit just recently on our grant management program with no findings, so we’re pretty pleased with the direction that’s gone in. Of course I credit that to our former state auditor Joanne Hill who just did a great job of developing a grants policy and procedures manual that essentially has standardized all our grants operations and monitoring of those grants.

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