Homeland security becomes a target for lobbyists
New, amorphous, and far-reaching, homeland security is a possible target for every special interest in Washington-particularly those scavenging for federal dollars or trying to duck costly new regulations.
The first taste of this intense lobbying came last month, when the Senate's homeland security bill nearly collapsed at the last minute under the weight of special-interest add-ons-financial breaks for everyone from pharmaceutical companies to Texas A&M University.
The new Homeland Security Department will have a budget of nearly $37 billion and 170,000 employees from 22 different agencies. The big challenge for the department, and for Congress, will be to harness what threatens to become a lobbying free-for-all.
Without careful congressional monitoring, says Frank Hoffman, who was a top aide to the Hart-Rudman Commission on terrorism, "I'm afraid the special interests will win every single time. If all the special interests get what they want, [the department] will turn out to be a placebo. There won't be any real safety, because there will be so many exceptions and so many holes."
Families of September 11
Celebrating its first anniversary this month, Families of September 11, which represents about 1,200 relatives of people killed in the September 11 attacks, has become an influential force in all things dealing with homeland security. "We have a certain standing on the issues that we wouldn't have if we hadn't lost loved ones in the attacks," says the group's treasurer, Stephen Push.
The families plan to be involved in many areas, starting with investigations of past intelligence failures to help prevent future ones. The group's most recent victory was to persuade the White House to support the proposal for an independent commission to investigate intelligence and other government missteps that preceded the September 11 attacks.
"The kind of adverse publicity we could generate for the White House if they didn't appoint the commission or they continued to fight it was pretty substantial," Push said. As the Homeland Security Department springs to life, the families will work to make sure that its component parts are functioning properly and are sufficiently funded.
Push, the group's main face in Washington, quit his job as a public-relations consultant to commit himself full-time to his cause. Families of September 11 quickly made contacts at the White House and with congressional leadership, and its members appear regularly with lawmakers at press conferences. Push's late wife, Lisa Raines, died on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon; she had been the top lobbyist for Genzyme. Of his newfound lobbying skills, Push said, "I think I absorbed a little by osmosis."
American Association of Port Authorities
The American Association of Port Authorities, which represents 85 major U.S. ports, was instrumental in shaping the port-security legislation that Congress enacted at the end of its fall session. The AAPA pushed hard for a bill that provided for significant local involvement in port security, a flexible regulatory approach for different ports, and federal financing to help ports enhance security. The association has strong ties to members of Congress from states with major ports, such as Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Washington, and it was part of a large coalition with the National Association of Manufacturers that fought a measure sponsored by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C. Hollings's bill would have imposed a user fee on all cargo and passengers entering and exiting U.S. ports, and could have raised $700 million annually. After intense lobbying-including help from former Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., who works for the Port of New Orleans-the user fees were dropped.
To date, only about $92 million has been provided in federal grants to ports for security improvements, less than a fifth of what airlines have received. The association, which estimates that $2.2 billion is needed to beef up port security, intends to push for more federal funding next year and will oppose any new attempts to impose user fees. "If the user fee comes up again, that will be a big issue for us," says Susan Turner, a top lobbyist with the association.
The AAPA is not one of K Street's giants. Its budget is a very modest-if not smallish-$1.8 million per year. The association has five registered in-house lobbyists and no outside ones, although New Orleans and some of the other larger ports employ outside lobbyists such as Livingston.
American Federation of Government Employees
As Congress fled town for the holidays, you could almost hear American Federation of Government Employees National President Bobby Harnage reminding Republicans, in his best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice, "I'll be back." Perhaps the most vocal group in the debate over the department, the federation ultimately got next to nothing of what it wanted in worker protections, but it's unlikely to walk away from the fight. "The unions are going to be back loud and clear," predicted one Senate Democratic aide. The federation is part of the AFL-CIO and represents 600,000 federal and D.C. government workers.
With a high-stakes election in 2004, unions will have leverage with Democrats and probably with moderate Republicans on Capitol Hill, but the question is whether they'll have any influence with the White House. One federation official said that the initial strategy would be to try to work with the administration.
On the federation's homeland security wish list: no pay cuts for those employees pulled into the new department; no staff reductions; clear lines of authority that avoid the potential for favoritism; and a "meaningful" way to appeal disciplinary actions. Should the White House be unwilling to listen to the federation's agenda, its members will "try to make sure everybody knows on Capitol Hill." That effort could take the form of either quiet pressure on key senators or new legislation. The federation has a $36 million annual budget and a staff of 217, of whom 100 are in the group's Washington headquarters.
The American Chemistry Council
The American Chemistry Council, whose members account for 95 percent of the chemical production in the United States, has been a key player in opposing Senate legislation that would give the Environmental Protection Agency the lead role in regulating security at chemical plants. In fighting the bill this year, the council helped build an ad hoc lobbying coalition that included such K Street goliaths as the American Petroleum Institute and the American Farm Bureau Federation. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., would have given the EPA the authority to require thousands of chemical facilities with large quantities of hazardous material on site to do vulnerability studies about security risks, and to adopt plans to minimize them.
The council argued that it preferred voluntary steps, and that the new Department of Homeland Security, and not the EPA, is the right regulatory agency. "Homeland security should not be confused with environmental protection, both of which we take seriously," says John Connelly, who is in charge of security issues for the council.
The council's lobbying achieved a split decision: Corzine's measure was unanimously voted out of the Environment and Public Works Committee, but it wasn't included in the final homeland security bill. Corzine intends to push for it again next year. Moreover, Tom Ridge, the newly nominated secretary of Homeland Security, has indicated he favors legislation that would require 15,000 of the nation's higher-risk chemical facilities to do vulnerability studies and take steps to reduce security risks.
National Emergency Management Association
For state and local officials, the stakes in the homeland security game are high. The players are many: governors and mayors, fire chiefs and sheriffs, public works and public health workers. The double whammy of recession and post-9/11 needs has left all of them strapped for cash. All want a big share of, and have urgent and often conflicting needs for, the promised $3.5 billion in federal aid in the still-stalled 2003 budget. And all have their own advocates in Washington.
There are two groups of groups. The most powerful, such as the National Governors Association, represent senior elected officials across a wide range of issues, of which homeland security is just one. The most focused, such as the International Association of Fire Chiefs, represent particular professions for whom homeland security has become all-consuming since 9/11. But one group bridges this divide, combining clout with focus: the obscure but strategically positioned National Emergency Management Association. The association represents the top emergency officials in each state's government; their job is to plan and coordinate disaster response.
With a staff of less than half a dozen and a budget of less than $500,000, the association is no giant. But as an arm of the Council of State Governments (which has more than 150 staff and an $8.2 million budget), the association is part of the powerful "Big Seven" groups representing top state and local officials. At the same time, as emergency managers-coordinators and planners with small budgetary needs of their own-NEMA's members can act as honest brokers among specialists by helping to argue for more federal money for the agencies that need it, whether they be public health, public works, firefighters, law enforcement, or the National Guard.
Everyone is selling high-tech to defend the homeland. Almost nobody is buying. With a new Cabinet department barely created and the 2003 budget still in limbo, real money and actual contracts are scarce. The big exception is the Transportation Security Administration, which in August let a contract to build from scratch the yearling agency's information systems at 429 airports. If the TSA exercises all the options, it will be a seven-year, $1 billion project. The winner is a team of more than 30 companies led by Unisys.
A 16-year-old company with roots in a 19th-century typewriter manufacturer, Unisys had 38,900 employees and revenues of $6 billion in 2001. It has two registered lobbyists in Washington and one outside firm on retainer. In March 2001, National Journal's Government Executive ranked Unisys only 11th in the federal IT marketplace. So winning this contract is something of a vindication for the company, which had wanted to recast itself from a mere maker of hardware to an "integrator" of complex packages of systems and services.
The contract gets Unisys in on the ground floor of the nascent Homeland Security Department. Unisys's managing principal for the project, Tom Conaway, meets every Friday afternoon with the TSA's chief information officer-and because the TSA is so new, said Conaway, "we have to invent the processes as we go along." Unisys is not only wiring homeland security, it is helping write the rules for years to come.