Combating Terrorism: Issues in Managing Counterterrorist Programs
(Testimony, 04/06/2000, GAO/T-NSIAD-00-145).
Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed federal efforts to
combat terrorism, focusing on the: (1) need to link threats to
strategies and resources in federal efforts to combat terrorism; (2)
need to improve federal and state intergovernmental coordination and
program issues; and (3) findings of a report from the Advisory Panel to
Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of
Mass Destruction--better known as the Gilmore Panel.
GAO noted that: (1) one of the major deficiencies in federal efforts to
combat terrorism is the lack of linkage between the terrorist threat, a
national strategy, and agency resources; (2) much of the federal efforts
to combat terrorism have been based upon vulnerabilities rather than an
analysis of credible threats; (3) while there has been a major effort to
develop a national strategy, to date the strategy does not include a
clear desired outcome to be achieved; (4) resources to combat terrorism
have increased in terms of both budgets and programs; (5) these
increased resources have not been clearly linked to a threat analysis,
and GAO found cases where some agency initiatives appear at odds with
the judgments of the intelligence community; (6) this situation also
creates the potential for agencies to develop their own programs without
adequate coordination, leaving the potential for gaps or duplication;
(7) efforts to track and coordinate federal spending across agencies
have started, but they have only begun to tackle the important task of
prioritizing programs; (8) the federal government cannot prepare for
terrorist incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological, or
nuclear materials on its own; (9) several improvements are also
warranted in intergovernmental relations between federal, state, and
local governments; (10) the multitude of federal assistance programs has
led to confusion on the part of state and local officials; (11) one step
to improve coordination and reduce confusion has been the creation of
the National Domestic Preparedness Office within the Department of
Justice to provide "one stop shopping" to state and local officials in
need of assistance; (12) this office has recently prepared a draft plan
on how it will provide assistance; (13) another intergovernmental issue
requiring resolution is the matter of command and control at the site of
a terrorist incident; (14) roles of the federal government versus state
and local governments need to be further clarified to prevent confusion;
(15) the federal government is making some progress in addressing these
command and control issues through exercises; (16) federal exercises, in
contrast to earlier years, are now practicing crisis and consequence
management simultaneously and including state and local participation;
and (17) the Gilmore Panel report found many of the same problems that
GAO has been reporting on, such as the need for: (a) more rigorous
analyses of the threat; (b) better management of federal programs; (c)
improvements in coordination with state and local officials; and (d) a
national strategy to combat terrorism.
--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------
TITLE: Combating Terrorism: Issues in Managing Counterterrorist
Defense contingency planning
IDENTIFIER: DOD Domestic Preparedness Program
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April 6, 2000
Issues in Managing Counterterrorist Programs
Statement of Norman J. Rabkin, Director
National Security Preparedness Issues
National Security and International Affairs Division
Before the Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Emergency
Management, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, House of
United States General Accounting Office
Madam Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
I am pleased to be here to discuss our prior work and observations on
federal efforts to combat terrorism, especially those to prepare for and
respond to terrorist attacks involving chemical, biological, radiological or
nuclear (CBRN) materials. This is an important issue because responding to a
terrorist CBRN attack would require close coordination among federal
agencies (the Departments of Justice, Defense, the Federal Emergency
Management Agency and others), as well as with state and local agencies. In
addition, the amount of federal spending for combating terrorism has risen
significantly to $11 billion as requested in the President's fiscal year
2001 budget. With so many players and so many resources at stake, good
management of these programs is both a challenge and an imperative. For more
than 3 years we have evaluated and reported on a number of issues concerning
federal programs and activities to combat terrorism. A list of related GAO
products appears at the end of this statement.
My testimony will first discuss the need to link threats to strategies and
resources in federal efforts to combat terrorism. The second issue I will
discuss is the need to improve federal and state inter-governmental
coordination and program issues. Finally, at your request, I will comment on
the Report of the Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities
for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction-better known as the
Gilmore Panel because its chairman is James S. Gilmore, III, Governor of
The federal government cannot prepare for CBRN incidents on its own. Several
improvements are also warranted in intergovernmental relations between
federal, state and local governments. For example, we found that federal
agencies developed some of their assistance programs without coordinating
them with existing state and local emergency management structures. In
addition, the multitude of federal assistance programs has led to confusion
on the part of state and local officials. One step to improve coordination
and reduce confusion has been the creation of the National Domestic
Preparedness Office within the Department of Justice to provide "one stop
shopping" to state and local officials in need of assistance. This office
has recently prepared a draft plan on how it will provide assistance.
Another intergovernmental issue requiring resolution is the matter of
command and control at the site of a terrorist incident. Roles of the
federal government versus the state and local governments need to be further
clarified to prevent confusion. The federal government is making some
progress in addressing these command and control issues through exercises.
Federal exercises, in contrast to earlier years, are now practicing crisis
and consequence management simultaneously and including state and local
Finally, the Gilmore Panel report found many of the same problems that we
have been reporting on, such as the need for (1) more rigorous analyses of
the threat, (2) better management of federal programs, (3) improvements in
coordination with state and local officials, and (4) a national strategy to
combat terrorism. In addition, the report raises some interesting points for
Congress to consider in the future as it oversees federal programs to combat
Congress, concerned about federal programs to combat terrorism, created the
Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism
Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction, better known as the Gilmore Panel.
The Panel was chartered to examine federal, state, and local preparedness,
response, and funding issues for responding to terrorist attacks involving
Linking Threats to Strategies to Resources
Assessing the Terrorist Threat
Understanding Qualifications to the Terrorist Threat
Terrorists would have to overcome significant technical and operational
challenges to successfully make and release chemical or biological agents of
sufficient quality and quantity to kill or injure large numbers of people
without substantial assistance from a foreign government sponsor. In most
cases, specialized knowledge is required in the manufacturing process and in
improvising an effective delivery device for most chemical and nearly all
biological agents that could be used in terrorist attacks. Moreover, some of
the required components of chemical agents and highly infective strains of
biological agents are difficult to obtain. Finally, terrorists may have to
overcome other obstacles to successfully launch an attack that would result
in mass casualties, such as unfavorable meteorological or environmental
conditions and personal safety risks.
These types of qualifications are important because, without them,
decisionmakers in both the executive or legislative branch, may get an
exaggerated view of the terrorist threat, particularly as it relates to CBRN
Need for Threat and Risk Assessment
Without the benefits that a threat and risk assessment provides, many
agencies have been relying on worst case scenarios to generate
countermeasures or establish their programs. Worst case scenarios are
extreme situations and, as such, may be out of balance with the threat. In
our view, by using worst case scenarios, the federal government is focusing
on vulnerabilities (which are unlimited) rather than credible threats (which
are limited). By targeting investments based on worst case scenarios, the
government may be over funding some initiatives and programs and under
funding the more likely threats the country will face. As an example, we
have testified that the Department of Health and Human Services is
establishing a national pharmaceutical and vaccine stockpile that does not
match intelligence agencies' judgments of the more likely chemical and
biological agents that terrorists might use. In some of our current work at
other federal agencies, we are continuing to find that worst case scenarios
are being used in planning efforts to develop programs and capabilities.
As you know, we have recommended that the threat and risk assessments be
conducted at the local level as a tool to target federal assistance
programs. In addition, since we last testified before this Subcommittee, we
also recommended that the FBI perform a national-level threat and risk
assessment. The FBI has agreed in principle with our recommendations and FBI
officials recently updated us on their progress. Regarding local threat and
risk assessments, the FBI and the Department of Justices' Office of Justice
Programs are about to send out threat and risk assessment information for
local governments to use. The local jurisdictions will then send their
assessments to their respective state governments to compile and analyze.
The state governments will use the findings to develop a state-wide domestic
preparedness strategy. The FBI has agreed to lead a national level threat
and risk assessment, but has noted certain limitations. For example, because
of the restrictions it faces on the use of law enforcement intelligence
information, its efforts will first concentrate on the threats posed by
various CBRN agents, as opposed to threats posed by specific terrorist
groups. The FBI would then combine this with threat information in a
classified assessment. The FBI officials did not have an estimate as to when
they would formally begin their national assessment, but they estimated it
would take about 6 months.
Developing a Strategy With a Desired Outcome
Linking Resources to the Threat and Strategy
In addition to reporting on the increase in the number of programs, we have
testified twice on the rapid increase in federal funding to combat
terrorism. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reported 1998 actual
spending at $7.658 billion consisting of $5.871 billion for combating
terrorism, $.645 billion for combating weapons of mass destruction and
$1.142 billion for critical infrastructure protection. The President's
budget request for fiscal year 2001 totals $11.117 billion consisting of
$7.538 billion for combating terrorism, $1.552 billion for combating weapons
of mass destruction and $2.027 billion for critical infrastructure
protection. As proposed in the President's budget request, total funding
would increase about 45 percent from 1998 to 2001, with component increases
of about 28 percent for combating terrorism, about 140 percent for combating
weapons of mass destruction, and about 77 percent for critical
infrastructure protection. As noted in our earlier work, funding has
increased dramatically at the Departments of Health and Human Services,
Justice, and at the FBI.
In those testimonies, we reported positively on OMB's efforts to track
budgeting and spending by counterterrorist and CBRN programs. We believe
that the OMB reports on governmentwide spending and budgeting to combat
terrorism are a significant step toward improved management and coordination
of the complex and rapidly growing programs and activities. Through these
reports, the executive branch and Congress have strategic oversight of the
magnitude and direction of federal funding for this priority national
security and law enforcement concern. The OMB reports to date, however, do
not clearly or explicitly describe any established priorities or duplication
of efforts as called for in legislation. At the time we prepared this
statement, OMB had not released its detailed spending report for fiscal year
2000. However, OMB officials told us that they are now collecting detailed
programmatic data from each agency, which will be useful for comparing
agencies and analyzing trends. We continue to be hopeful that OMB's efforts
will provide useful information for prioritizing and targeting resources.
Addressing Intergovernmental Issues
Focusing and Coordinating Federal Assistance Programs
A major federal initiative to provide better focus and to coordinate federal
assistance programs is the National Domestic Preparedness Office. The
Office, which was recently funded in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for
Fiscal Year 2000, is just getting organized. The Office will function as an
interagency forum to coordinate federal policy and program assistance for
state and local emergency responders. For instance, the Office will assess
federal training programs to eliminate duplication and ensure that the
training adheres to minimum national standards. It is to coordinate and
serve as an information clearinghouse for federal programs devoted to
supporting state and local emergency responder communities in the area of
CBRN-related domestic preparedness planning, training, exercises, and
equipment research and development. However, the Office will not have veto
power over any agency's programs, so its authorities to actually prevent or
stop duplicate programs will be limited.
Since our last testimony before this Subcommittee, the National Domestic
Preparedness Office has drafted an action plan. According to the plan, the
Office will focus on (1) identifying existing needs assessment tools, (2)
cataloging all federal domestic preparedness training, (3) verifying that
federal domestic preparedness training initiatives meet the applicable
standards, (4) identifying existing training delivery systems and coordinate
among federal agencies, (5) coordinating the development of sustainment CBRN
training for emergency responders, and (6) facilitating the incorporation of
lessons learned into training curriculums. As requested by this
subcommittee, we plan to obtain updated information on the National Domestic
Preparedness Office and report back to you.
Clarifying Command and Control at Incidents
This ambiguity over command of an incident is exacerbated by the separation
of crisis management and consequence management. For terrorist attacks on
U.S. soil, two separate federal agencies lead these activities-the FBI leads
crisis management and FEMA leads consequence management. While the FBI would
likely be in command (i.e., leading state and/or local officials) for the
crisis management, FEMA is always in support of the state and/or local
officials for consequence management. When terrorist attacks occur without
adequate threat warning, crisis response and consequence management will be
concurrent activities. This complicates unity of command because half of the
response (crisis management) will be led by the federal government, and half
of the response (consequence management) will be led by the state and/or
Exercises Helping to Clarify Command and Control Issues
We have observed progress in intergovernmental exercises. In our review of
federal counterterrorist exercises from 1995-98, we found that 69 of 201
exercises (or 34 percent) were intergovernmental-they included state and
local authorities such as police and fire departments. However, we also
found that domestic crisis response exercises led by federal law enforcement
agencies did not include many of the state, and local authorities that would
be needed to effectively respond, or the entire range of activities required
to respond to a terrorist crisis. We did note some improvements as we issued
that report in 1999. The FBI began taking steps to enhance its program and
said they viewed participation by state and local agencies as a top priority
as it continued to plan and execute counterterrorist exercises. FBI
officials noted that staffing and budget considerations or restrictive union
contracts sometimes hinder state and local participation in federal
We have also observed increased efforts to conduct exercises that simulate
crisis management and consequence management together. During our review of
federal counterterrorist exercises, we found that domestic crisis management
exercises always ended in the successful tactical resolution of the
incidents and did not include more likely scenarios where terrorist attacks
were successful or occurred without adequate threat warning. Thus, the full
gamut of interagency response activities was not tested. For example, in the
3 years following Presidential Decision Directive 39, the FBI did not
conduct or participate in a field exercise that simulated the concurrence of
crisis and consequence management to deal with a major terrorist incident.
However, other agencies did lead exercises that focused on both crisis and
consequence management. While there were none in the first year after
PDD-39, there were 2 exercises in the second year and 33 exercises in the
third year that included both crisis management and consequence management.
Comments on the Gilmore Panel Report
GAO and Gilmore Panel Find Many Similar Deficiencies
* Federal programs addressing terrorism appear, in many cases, to be
fragmented, overlapping, lacking focus, and uncoordinated.
* A terrorist group would face many difficulties in acquiring or
developing and delivering a device with the capability to cause mass
* The United States should reconsider the "worst case scenario"
assessments that have dominated domestic preparedness planning for CBRN
* There should be a comprehensive and articulate assessment of potential
credible terrorist threats as part of a risk and vulnerability
* It is not always clear "who is in charge" at the federal and state or
local level when an incident occurs.
* There should be agreed-upon templates for local to federal handoffs of
command and control, and these should be exercised in advance.
* A national strategy-beyond the existing Attorney General's Five Year
Plan --is needed to address domestic preparedness and CBRN terrorism.
Other Issues Raised in the Gilmore Panel Report
* The Panel concluded that there is ambiguity and lack of consensus on
definitions for terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, mass
casualties, and other terms that federal programs are being built
around. Therefore, some common terms of reference would enhance
communication and coordination among the federal agencies.
* The Panel concluded that the most likely terrorist attacks will involve
large explosives. Therefore, more attention to these types of incidents
would enhance overall preparedness to respond to terrorist attacks.
* The Panel concluded that congressional decisions for authority and
funding to address the issue appear to be uncoordinated. They suggested
that Congress consider forming an ad hoc Joint Special or Select
Committee to provide more efficiency and effectiveness in Federal
Madame Chairman, that concludes my prepared statement. I would be happy to
answer any questions at this time.
GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments
Related GAO Products
Combating Terrorism: Chemical and Biological Medical Supplies Are Poorly
Managed (GAO/HEHS/AIMD-00-36, Oct. 29, 1999).
Combating Terrorism: Observations on the Threat of Chemical and Biological
Terrorism (GAO/T-NSIAD-00-50, Oct. 20, 1999).
Critical Infrastructure Protection: Fundamental Improvements Needed to
Assure Security of Federal Operations (GAO/T-AIMD-00-7, Oct. 6,1999).
Critical Infrastructure Protection: Comprehensive Strategy Can Draw on Year
2000 Experiences (GAO/AIMD-00-1, Oct. 1, 1999).
Information Security: The Proposed Computer Security Enhancement Act of 1999
(GAO/T-AIMD-99-302, Sept. 30, 1999).
Combating Terrorism: Need for Comprehensive Threat and Risk Assessments of
Chemical and Biological Attack (GAO/NSIAD-99-163, Sept. 7, 1999).
Combating Terrorism: Analysis of Federal Counterterrorist Exercises
(GAO/NSIAD-99-157BR, June 25, 1999).
Combating Terrorism: Observations on Growth in Federal Programs
(GAO/T-NSIAD-99-181, June 9, 1999).
Combating Terrorism: Analysis of Potential Emergency Response Equipment and
Sustainment Costs (GAO/NSIAD-99-151, June 9, 1999).
Combating Terrorism: Use of National Guard Response Teams Is Unclear
(GAO/NSIAD-99-110, May 21, 1999).
Combating Terrorism: Issues to Be Resolved to Improve Counterterrorist
Operations (GAO/NSIAD-99-135, May 13, 1999).
Combating Terrorism: Observations on Biological Terrorism and Public Health
Initiatives (GAO/T-NSIAD-99-112, Mar. 16, 1999).
Combating Terrorism: Observations on Federal Spending to Combat Terrorism
(GAO/T-NSIAD/GGD-99-107, Mar. 11, 1999).
Combating Terrorism: Opportunities to Improve Domestic Preparedness Program
Focus and Efficiency (GAO/NSIAD-99-3, Nov. 12, 1998).
Combating Terrorism: Observations on the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici Domestic
Preparedness Program (GAO/T-NSIAD-99-16, Oct. 2, 1998).
Combating Terrorism: Observations on Crosscutting Issues
(GAO/T-NSIAD-98-164, Apr. 23, 1998).
Combating Terrorism: Threat and Risk Assessments Can Help Prioritize and
Target Program Investments (GAO/NSIAD-98-74, Apr. 9, 1998).
Combating Terrorism: Spending on Governmentwide Programs Requires Better
Management and Coordination (GAO/NSIAD-98-39, Dec. 1, 1997).
Combating Terrorism: Federal Agencies' Efforts to Implement National Policy
and Strategy (GAO/NSIAD-97-254, Sept. 26, 1997).
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