My name is Kim Ainsworth Klaskin and I am a longtime federal government employee and am currently a management analyst with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. I’m also an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Public Administration.
Those who have taken my classes know that I like to share my "real-world" experiences during the semester to demonstrate many of the principles we discuss throughout the semester. I can tell you without a doubt that my public administration background has served me well and enables me to interact effectively with a variety of public officials, political and civilian, at all levels. During my career, I have been lucky enough to get involved in some really cool stuff! From being on the ground just days after Hurricane Harvey as part of the disaster survivor assistance team in 2017 to spending two months at the Southwest Border in Texas imbedded with Border Patrol last year, I have seen and heard a lot. I am currently imbedded with the HHS/FEMA New England COVID-19 Task Force and tasked with supporting the six New England states in their response to the COVID-19 national emergency.
I can tell you that COVID-19 is real and as a nation, we are fighting an invisible war. In New England, HHS and FEMA, like all regions of the country, developed this joint task force to tackle COVID-19 and I am serving as the Federal Agency Liaison. While not officially part of an Emergency Support Function, as outlined in a formal Incident Command Structure, it's a new role that has been identified as important due to the nature of the emergency. The rest of the senior leadership team consists of officials representing FEMA, Health and Human Services, DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the DOD Defense Coordinating Element.
Four of the six New England states, and several tribal nations, currently have currently received presidential disaster declarations. The bulk of the task force's work is responding to the states’ needs for both resources and information. The Federal Coordinating Officer spends a good majority of his day interacting with the governors and other political leaders and I support those efforts. My job is to support inquiries from governors and to connect the task force with agencies who are not traditionally involved in a formal response posture. In just the past two weeks, I have facilitated responses on inquiries related to things such as Disaster Unemployment Insurance, Small Business Administration Disaster Loans, the state of the U.S. Census (and how, in particular, college students will be counted,) border closures, and more. I am also tracking and reporting on federal agency statuses that would be high impact for governors/states. (i.e., SSA, passports, VA Benefits Office, VA Medical Centers limitation of visitors.) It is important to note that, while in person, at FEMA's Regional Response Center, the task force is now entirely virtual. (Yes, I am working from my home.)
When this crisis is all over, I am happy to provide a more briefing on my experience, especially as it relates to the principles of public administration. It is fast-paced and ever-changing and what I signed up for when I became a public administrator.