(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – Members of the Nevada Commission on Homeland Security today criticized the decision by Gov. Jim Gibbons to merge the homeland security program with the Department of Public Safety, saying the critical mission of the program has been diminished with the move.
The commission was also informed that Rick Eaton, director of Homeland Security, has resigned effective the end of the month. Jerry Hafen, director of the Department of Public Safety, said Eaton submitted his resignation to the governor explaining he wanted to spend more time with his family.
But it was the move of the Office of Homeland Security from under Gibbons to Public Safety that provoked the most comment from the commission.
Commission Vice Chairman Jerry Keller, a former Clark County Sheriff, said the Office of Homeland Security now has no direct link to Gibbons, a communication avenue critical to the mission of the program. Keller acknowledged that Gibbons does not have the authority without legislative approval to create a position of director of homeland security.
“But I’m telling you right now in my opinion, having been involved in homeland security since the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I am disappointed in this move of the state,” Keller said. “They have never taken this to heart.
“We go along at a snail’s pace with every issue on homeland security,” he said. “I am disappointed in this decision. I think it is an absolute mistake. It is a sad day for the homeland security side of the state of Nevada and the citizens it serves.”
Keller’s concerns about moving the program were echoed by Doug Gillespie, the current Clark County sheriff, and others on the panel.
Commission Chairman Dale Carrison acknowledged Keller’s concerns, but said he will support Gibbons’ decision.
“It’s time for all the people in the boat to be rowing in the same direction,” he said.
Carrison said the decision to move homeland security has uncovered issues with the program that could cost the state money in future grant awards.
He said there are “significant chances that we will lose a large amount of money because of what has happened in some of the programs, or better yet what has not happened in some of the programs, that has come to light during this transition period and time.”
The commission will be advised of these concerns in future meetings, Carrison said.
An effort is under way to get the programs back on track, he said. Once this task is accomplished, the commission can go forward with the issues raised by Keller and others, he said.
Keller said that if there was a failure to perform by a member of the program, shifting it from one area of state government to another won’t solve the problem.
Hafen said a review of the programs operated by the Office of Homeland Security is under way to ensure funds are being spent appropriately and within the timelines required by the federal government. Hafen said he does not believe the issues being uncovered in the review and mentioned by Carrison as concerns are, “insurmountable.”
Gibbons in October announced he was moving the program from his office to the Department of Public Safety, following the lead of two dozen other states. The reason for the move is to improve efficiency and response, Gibbons said in making the announcement. Within Public Safety, the program is being overseen by the Division of Emergency Management and its chief, Frank Siracusa. Siracusa reports to Hafen.
Hafen said the move is the best decision for homeland security in the short term until issues raised by Keller and others can be addressed by the Legislature.
“I understand the frustration of everybody, I’ve been as frustrated as anybody else about the performance of that office,” Hafen said. “Not just under Rick Eaton’s leadership. The Office of Homeland Security never really had a place in the state structure because it was never legislatively created.”
Gibbons spokesman Dan Burns said there are plans for a workshop to discuss the future of the Office of Homeland Security and the concerns expressed by Keller and others.
Keller praised the work of Siracusa, but said he is overloaded with his current duties.
Keller said he has been asking for a director of homeland security for almost eight years following the 2001 terrorist attacks, but it has not happened.
“There are some significant deficiencies in the overall state plan,” he said. “We don’t have anybody in charge in the state of Nevada in homeland security.”
Keller said both Clark and Washoe counties have created such a position and the state is better off because of this local government commitment to homeland security.
“This commission specifically has no authority to take action,” he said. “We advise.”