McCain's homeland security strategy could take an 'eBay approach'

The Republican presidential candidate, if elected, would borrow private sector ideas to come up with innovative approaches to homeland security, according to a McCain rep.

WASHINGTON--Government needs better engagement with the private sector to develop a stronger homeland security strategy for emergency response, government and industry representatives said Wednesday--and may even turn to companies like eBay for inspiration on how to respond to domestic emergencies, suggested a representative for John McCain.

The remarks were made during a panel discussion Wednesday focused on a report by the nonpartisan, not-for-profit Reform Institute. The report suggests the federal government create a homeland security policy that focuses not only on offensive measures to protect the country, but also reactive measures to keep the country resilient in the face of an emergency.

The report (PDF), released Wednesday, specifically said industry and government need to create contingency plans to address threats of disruption to the supply chain--such as hazardous shipping containers brought into U.S. ports--that could have wide ranging consequences for the nation, economic and otherwise.

Among other things, a McCain administration may take an "eBay approach" to maintaining an open supply chain in the event of an emergency, said Lee Carosi Dunn, counsel to Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee.

That would mean "providing the technology for localities to bid out at competitive rates for the supplies they need" during natural or man-made disasters, Dunn explained. After Hurricane Katrina, for example, many organizations were interested in providing much-needed resources--like ice--to the affected areas, but poor organization and communications hampered the transfer of those supplies.

Taking an "eBay approach," Dunn said, was one way to possibly keep the supply chain open more effectively, with financing for the bidding coming from both the affected localities and federal funding.

"It's an example of private sector ideas that could be utilized in government programs," she said.

Dunn noted that former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman is a co-chair for McCain's presidential campaign and that the candidate greatly admires the company.

As president, McCain would also place a great emphasis on cybersecurity, Dunn said, especially in the wake of the cyberattacks against Georgia from Russia. The candidate has also taken initiative in the area of communications interoperability, the campaign surrogate said, and has been a longtime advocate for setting aside spectrum for first responders, as well as providing them with more funding.

McCain's offensive strategy for homeland security will not help foster greater resiliency in the United States, countered P.J. Crowley, a senior fellow and director of homeland security at American Progress who serves as a volunteer advisor for Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

"Senator McCain's answer is to leave 140,000 troops in Iraq," he said. "The longer this strategy goes on, that necessarily means there are fewer resources available for other things."

Only 9 percent of government funds spent on national security go towards defensive operations, he said, while 80 to 85 percent are spent on offense.

"At some fashion you want to make sure the government has resilient systems," Crowley said. "Ultimately, resources matter."

Crowley said the foremost responsibility for the next president will be to ensure government departments undergo a smooth transition from the current administration to next. For many departments, including DHS, this will be the first full administrative transition.

The transition, he said, will prove a chance to "step back and take a strategic look at where we need to go."

"DHS is doing a lot of good things, but certain things have been uneven," he said. "One of the challenges is to make sure DHS continues to mature."

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