Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

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Posts Tagged ‘congressional oversight’

The Obama Bureaucracy Gap: Mid-Level Positions Still Vacant

Posted by K.E. White on April 12, 2009

 

Woe the empty chairs? Obamaland has hundreds of positions still waiting for Congressional approval.

Woe the empty chairs? Obamaland has hundreds of positions still waiting for Congressional approval.

Should the appointment process be Congressional reform item #1?

At a recent congressional hearing, for example, Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., lamented that Dennis Blair, the national intelligence director, doesn’t have time to manage the extra responsibilities he’s been given on economics and climate change.

“The ideal person for that is the principal deputy director of national intelligence,” suggested Edward Maguire, the agency’s outgoing inspector general.

But that’s one of hundreds of seats still empty. There are similar stories all across government.

George Mason University professor James Pfiffner, an expert on presidential appointments, said that while capable civil servants can keep the government functioning, no one expects them to “go off in a new direction” to carry out a new president’s policies.

Light describes it as a “neckless government,” representing the gap between the new Cabinet secretaries and the career employees.

“You really need the president’s people in there to put the push on for action,” he said.

All told, Obama has about 500 appointments to make that are subject to Senate confirmation, and about 3,000 positions to fill overall, Light estimates.

From Norman Orstein’s recent Politico blog:

The problem is that career bureaucrats or officials in agencies either cannot or will not make those decisions on their own– and the political appointees who could make the decisions have not been confirmed, or in many cases even nominated. It is true that the Obama Administration started impressively during the transition, and moved to select a Cabinet and get a White House team in place in near-record time for the modern period. They are still a bit ahead of the pace of the Bush and Clinton Administrations on the rest of their appointments, but only a bit. In ordinary times, waiting until the summer or fall to get the second tier officials in office– those below the top fifty. But these are not ordinary times, and the failure to get the top one hundred appointees in place in the homeland security, national security and economic areas, especially, is a major problem. It underscores the deep need to reform and streamline the nomination and confirmation process, formally through a different vetting process, and informally by losing our obsession with nitpicking tax returns and demonizing people who have been Washington insiders. Congress and the White House both need to focus on this issue. It has gone beyond questions of public administration to real and basic government performance.

Posted in appointments | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Congressional WMD & Terrorism Commission Sounds Alarm Bell Amidst Worries Of Unconventional Nuclear & Biological Attacks, Dysfunctional Congressional Oversight

Posted by proliferationpr on December 1, 2008

“Unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013…”

 “Congressional oversight is dysfunctional…”

-soon-to-be released report from the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism (CPWMD);  executive summary

As noted earlier on Proliferation Press, the CPWMD will be releasing Wednesday what appears to be a dreary look at the WMD proliferation threats facing our country and the world. In the backdrop of last week’s terrorists attacks in India and the likely role some commission members may play in the Obama administration, well-timed leaks to the NYTimes and Washington Post are promising the commission’s report some limelight from policy makers and journalists alike.

A November 30th report in WaPo focused on the threat of biological attack. It highlights a serious gap in American’s security system: that many research labs equipped with dangerous biological materials evade federal regulation since they are private and hold pathogens not on the government watch-list of known biowarfare agents. According to the report, this means there are currently non-regulated labs holding the SARS virus—the virus used in a series of biological attacks in 2001, resulting in 5 deaths.

Not to be left out, the NYTimes today released a report outlining the report’s executive summary.

The Commission recites a typical litany of policy prescriptions: renewed efforts to curtail Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs; improved defenses against bioterrorism; and a new energy in multilateral approaches to containing the threat of WMD proliferation and terrorism—with particular focus on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Yet what is most worrisome is the report’s dismal assessment of Congressional oversight in regards to WMD proliferation and terrorism. After seven years it appears the US Government has failed to lay out and comprehensive and peer-reviewed strategy for combating the gravest threats to American security. Having already ceded most of its war-powers authority, can Congress really afford to be as a impediment to prudent policies that aim to prevent another 9-11?

Before highlighting sections of the NYTimes report, there are topics

  • Discussing/proposing an effective form of Congressional oversight over the gravest threats to American security, or simply pointing how ‘how’ the current Congressional oversight is dysfunctional. Is the key problem a lack of executive-congressional communication? Overlapping committees? Or is it simply a product of the White House running executive agencies, with Congress seen as too much a source of undesired leaks, partisan back-biting and echo-chamber discussion?

  • A system of distinguishing the ‘must-have’ from the ‘wish-list’. Pointing out flaws in the current system is valuable, but only if tied to a frank discussion of American capabilities are and how to best use them toward preventing WMD proliferation and terrorism. For example, how can America work towards both a proliferation-safe Pakistan and the need to safeguard American laboratories with SARS; and let’s not forget the looming threat of a radiological device stored away in a commercial ship’s cargo going off while docked at an American port.  

  • A rubric by which to judge success of failure. While both the WaPo and NYTimes reports suggest critical administration and Congressional failings, how do individual mistakes add-up to a conclusive judgment on US efforts to combat WMD proliferation and terrorism? (And will the general public ever know of covert policy successes?)

From the NYTimes report:

The panel’s 13 recommendations focus on fighting the threat of bioterrorism, including improved bioforensic capabilities, and strengthening international organizations, like the International Atomic Energy Agency, to address the nuclear threat. It also calls for a comprehensive approach for dealing with Pakistan.

Over all, the findings and recommendations seek to serve as a road map for the Obama administration.

The commission urges the Obama administration to work to halt the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs, backing up any diplomatic initiatives with “the credible threat of direct action” — code for military action, a commission official said.

Two weeks ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had produced roughly enough nuclear material to make, with added purification, a single atom bomb.

The commission also criticized the administration and Congress for not organizing themselves more effectively to combat the threat of unconventional weapons. The report recommended a single White House-level office or individual responsible for directing the nation’s policy to prevent the spread of unconventional weapons and their possible use by terrorists.

Posted in Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruc, Congress, Terrorism, WMD | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bush’s Other Lopsided Nuclear Deal: Sokolski Slams American Nuclear Cooperation with Russia

Posted by K.E. White on February 2, 2008

As posted earlier, nuclear cooperation between the United States and Russia is ramping up. Originally a plan to purchase Russian nuclear materials to power American nuclear power plants, Russia will now be paid (billions) to temporarily store these materials and be granted testing of American nuclear fuels. 

Henry Sokolski, Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, points out two flaws of the deal: America’s nuclear industries get “zilch” from the deal, and Russia is rewarded while supporting Iranian nuclear aspirations and providing other military assistance. 

Sokolski tackles why the administration—through the Department of Energy (DOE)—is backing the deal: 

Backers of the deal at the Energy Department, though, are motivated to test the waters. They are especially anxious now to substitute the U.S.-Russian cooperative nuclear weapons reduction programs that are nearing completion with a new set of U.S.-Russian civilian nuclear projects, projects that are only permissible if a formal nuclear cooperative agreement with Russia is put into force. These officials cynically calculate that Congress is too preoccupied with presidential-year politics to step in by the 90-day deadline.

 

The trade-off seems clear: while Russia is undermining Iran’s nuclear containment, it is more important to keep—or bride them—for their continued cooperation on nuclear matters. 

While Sokolski does paint a troublesome picture of executive dominance over America’s nuclear policies, he would have done well to briefly discuss Russo-American cooperative threat reduction (CTR) activities. 

Sokolski necessarily paints a simplified picture of American and Russian priorities. But CTR between the two countries is perhaps the most important aspect of their ‘nuclear’ relationship. CTR seeks to ensure Russian nuclear-weapons capable materials stay out of terrorist hands. 

From Richard Weitz’s April 2007 report on Russian-American Security Cooperation:

 

On a more positive note, the cooperative threat reduction process between Russia and its former Cold War adversaries remains one of the most successful examples of peacetime security collaboration between major military powers. Since major funding increases for weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-related threat reduction projects in Russia are unlikely, however, both sides should consider more creative solutions to several recurring problems that have impeded further progress. For example, measures to resolve disputes over access to sensitive Russian sites could include  granting Russian representatives more opportunities  to see U.S. WMD-related sites, hiring Russian firms or personnel to help dismantle excessive WMD stocks in the United States, and supplying additional data  concerning U.S.-funded threat reduction projects in Russia in return for more detailed information about Russia’s WMD-related facilities and employees,  especially those involved in Soviet-era biological and  chemical weapons activities.

 

Opportunities for additional progress in curbing third-party WMD proliferation also exist. Chances for Russian-American collaboration on joint or multilateral threat reduction projects outside the former Soviet Union increased substantially in June 2003, when the  G-8 governments agreed that the “Global Partnership  Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction” could in principle support threat  reduction activities in countries besides Russia. Another opportunity for Russian-American collaboration on  threat reduction projects beyond Russia arose in May  2004, when U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham announced a Global Threat Reduction Initiative  (GTRI) to identify, secure, and dispose of stockpiles of vulnerable civilian nuclear and radiological materials and related equipment throughout the world. The GTRI involves close cooperation between the United States and Russia in securing these high-risk sources. At the July 2006 G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, Presidents Bush and Putin launched a Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and opened formal negotiations on a bilateral civil nuclear energy cooperation agreement. (pages 9-10)

 

But this consideration does not diminish this aspect of Sokolski’s argument: DOE’s sidelining of any real Congressional oversight is gravely distressing. 

Whoever enters the White House in 2009 will review and retool America’s overall security posture. Whether shifting overall troop levels or modifying our nation’s various nuclear cooperation agreements, success will depend of the President’s ability to forge a new national security consensus. Such Congressional muzzling can not only lead to bad foreign policy, but erodes the fundamental challenge our nation faces in the age of international terrorism.

Posted in Congress, congressional oversight, cooperative threat reduction, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, Nuclear, nuclear cooperation, Russia, United States | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »