Already two years into his "dream job" as New York State's deputy secretary for public safety, Michael Balboni can now add a presidential appointment to his list of impressive accomplishments. Having served as state senator for the 7th district for 10 years, in January of 2007 Michael Balboni was appointed to head the state's homeland security; appointed first by Governor Eliot Spitzer and then reappointed by Governor David Paterson. Then, just recently, President-elect Barack Obama appointed Secretary Balboni as an outside advisor to the incoming president's Homeland Security transition team.
NYS Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Michael Balboni
This new national appointment will see Secretary Balboni and the transition team providing insights from the local level to the nation's incoming Homeland Security secretary. Secretary Balboni reports that he has already submitted a report focusing on four different areas of concern.
This advisory position will also see him serving on the Homeland Security Quadrennial Review Commission, where he and others will look over the next four years to try to determine what the nation's Department of Homeland Security will look like at the federal level in the coming years.
This advisory council will also provide briefings and information to the nation's secretary of homeland security; briefings and information from the private sector and from local government.
Following 9/11, working as a state senator, Secretary Balboni was quick to jump into the area of homeland security, often into uncharted areas. In December 2002 he asked the state Senate to start up a homeland security committee, a committee where he ultimately became the first chairman in January 2003. With this post, he attended hearings all over the state. "It was like a Ph.D. course in the operations of homeland security and criminal justice," he explained.
Today he travels extensively, within the state and around the country, both learning about and lecturing on homeland security issues. He just recently traveled to Socoro, New Mexico and to Nevada, to tour a nuclear testing range right outside of Las Vegas. Such tours provide New York State's "homeland security czar" with information about explosives and explosive devices, as well as radiation detection and management. "Fascinating stuff," Secretary Balboni told the Great Neck Record in a recent Christmas Eve interview.
With offices in Albany, in New York City, and in Washington D.C., Secretary Balboni oversees 14 state agencies that include 62,000 employees. His budget is "just shy of $5 billion."
He generally begins each week in Albany, with meetings; he serves on the governor's cabinet, meets with senior staff, and meets with the governor and "the inner circle." Meetings move on to those with staff and with the press, as Secretary Balboni prepares for what the week ahead holds. Dinner with agency heads and the security council are planned for each month. These meetings, he emphasized, are crucial "to ensure the flow of information."
In addition, Secretary Balboni serves as a nuclear notification officer for the state. If something goes wrong at a nuclear power plant, he is notified and becomes a part of the response team. "My role as the nuclear notification officer is just that; to keep the governor informed as to any incidents involving operation or safety of a nuclear energy facility within the state," he further explained.
Currently Secretary Balboni is also involved in the rebuilding and security at Ground Zero.
So much of what Secretary Balboni has achieved as state senator and now as head of the state's homeland security is a big part of what he can now offer at a national level. For the new president's transition team, Secretary Balboni has worked on the submission of national "first of a kind programs," security programs, including one modeled after a New York State program that he created --- the only rapid response force using National Guard soldiers. He has set up a 200-soldier company at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, where, in an emergency, the state could also utilize "air assets from the Air National Guard ... and boats from the Navy ... to provide a fast move of troops into an area, if needed, in the metropolitan area, not just in New York City ..." Secretary Balboni told the Record that such a force could be stationed in two hours, where it used to take 24 hours to get the National Guard up and running.
Heading New York State's Homeland Security, Secretary Balboni also created a regional transportation security working group that uses conference calls for the deployment of security assets in times of heightened alert. "If you see bomb dog teams or local police at a train station or if you see the National Guard at tunnels, that gets figured out at conference calls," he explained, adding that such sightings are not necessarily a cause for alarm --- "Sometimes we're just being protective."
And along these lines, Secretary Balboni discussed the MTA train and bus signs, the ones stating: "If you see something, say something." He assured that his department "takes down all of that information ... it's all overlaid on critical infrastructure across the state." He said that they "look for trend lines, patterns ..." Secretary Balboni and his staff have created a computer-based analysis system which will facilitate threat analysis and enable them "to better protect our infrastructure."
Secretary Balboni also made note of the fact that there are now 2 million subscribers to his state alert website: www.nyalert.gov This is a free web-based, multimedia alert system, offered to pagers, telephones (including cell phones), fax machines, pagers and computers. This is available free to the entire state. "It's the first in the nation," Secretary Balboni proudly stated.
As he continues to work on a statewide level, and now a national level as well, Secretary Balboni said that his goal is to "continue to provide innovation ... in these particularly challenging economic times." He noted that "we will truly have to do more with less ... and work closely with local partners."
At the start, and still today, Secretary Balboni uses the Great Neck peninsula and its emergency management preparedness as a model. "It's the best example of local government 'getting it,' balancing cost and protection," he said. He is impressed with the "cooperation of the mayors who focus on public safety ... they are an inspiration to me." Great Neck, via the Great Neck Village Officials Association, has its own carefully crafted emergency management plan, a plan that Secretary Balboni has been involved with all along the way. "With generators, evacuation plans ... everybody is providing a piece ... and it all makes it safer for residents of the peninsula." Secretary Balboni added that 'this is a job government should be doing."
For Secretary Balboni, "this is an amazing job." He considers it "the greatest privilege and honor" to work with local firefighters, police officers, EMT workers, and soldiers." His job also sees him working with the FBI and the CIA, and Secretary Balboni is proud that his "perspective has really been broadened, statewide and nationally."
And there is much more work ahead. Secretary Balboni said that "there is more work to do here ... Governor Paterson has been a tremendous friend and leader; I enjoy working with him very much."
As for the future, after this recent transition team appointment, is a Washington D.C. position in Michael Balboni's future?