Bureaucratic, Lethargic Washington Still Doesn't Get It on the Grid

While Washington negotiates to provide trillions of dollars for infrastructure, they largely ignore our most vital and vulnerable infrastructure — our nation's electric power grid.

Editors of The American Legion Magazine were not far from this truth in titling my April 20, 2018 article: "The Threat We Fail To Address."

Little has changed since then, except that a study, the Lake Wylie Pilot Study has proven that protecting the grid at the same standards as our most important military systems is affordable—  our main problems are bureaucratic and political.

I've elaborated on these facts in numerous Newsmax articles.

Then Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., accurately closed his important February 17, 2019 "Round Table" hearing by noting that we have known about "the existential threat posed by electromagnetic pulses (EMP) and geomagnetic disturbances (GMD)" for decades, but without "sufficient public pressure to take effective action to mitigate these threats.

"Instead, we establish commissions and study panels, conduct research, and develop plans to develop strategies.

"It is way past time to stop admiring this problem, and actually begin to do something concrete to protect our vulnerable electrical grid, control systems, and the ever-increasing array of electronic devices our society has become dependent upon."

Dr. George Baker’s prepared testimony still challenges the government’s lethargic practices. Sen. Johnson urged the others testifying to respond to Dr. Baker’s recommendations, many of which are included in his recent article, "Electromagnetic Pulse Resilience of United States Critical Infrastructure: Progress and Prognostic" in the Spring Summer 2021 Issue of the Journal of Critical Infrastructure Policy.

While serving on the National Security Council Staff, Dr. Baker sought to direct the federal bureaucracy to execute the March 26, 2019 Executive Order 13865, which was strengthened and became the law of the land, so to speak, via Sen. Johnson’s Amendment to the December 20, 2019 National Defense Authorization Act for 2020.

It is still the law of the land but the federal bureaucracy has not responded effectively.

For example, a 13-page May 14, 2020 alleged "whole of government" report signed by the President’s Science Adviser and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP), called for more studies — illustrating Sen. Johnson’s concern. And the anemic six-month late, four-page August 17, 2020 report illustrated the "whole of government" bureaucracy still was "admiring the problem."

For my purposes today, I again refer to Dr. Baker’s key role in the Lake Wylie Pilot Study before he became a member of the National Security Council staff, e.g., as discussed in my April 10, 2021 Newsmax article.

Dr. Baker believes we need complementary "bottom-up" and "top-down" effort.

I would agree if I had confidence in Washington’s ability to lead competently from the top down. Meeting Dr. Baker’s objective might be possible, were he still playing a leadership role, but alas he is not. And while he was there fighting the good fight, his efforts were undermined by numerous bureaucratic obstacles.

Actually, I long ago concluded the federal bureaucracy was not likely to deal effectively with the existential natural and manmade EMP threat, unless Washington had to respond to demands from the local and state level. So, I focused on working from the bottom-up with local and a few state authorities, as discussed in my May 4, 2017 written testimony at a Senate Energy Committee Hearing on Protecting the Grid against EMP.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and I explicitly warned about the existential EMP and GMD threat and the need for the government powers that be to address it urgently.

The others assured that all was well; and if not, then studies were underway that would assure an effective response to this existential threat. I think these claims were, and similar assurances over five years later continue to be, misplaced.

Based on our "Lake Wylie Pilot Study," I testified that we should address how best to protect the electric grid from the bottom-up — and am even more convinced today. Then Chair Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, seemed to give my perspective the benefit of the doubt in her concluding comments:

"I appreciate the urging that we not let our guard down … recognizing that this [threat] is complicated and multifaceted … truly daunting … and that we need to start out locally … It is important that we in congress be reminded of the urgency and imperative of our task and I think we were given that message this morning."

Alas, this has not happened. Instead, a top down approach has focused on the bulk power grid — consisting of power plants and high voltage transmission lines, but omitting the Distribution Grid that makes up about 90% of the nation’s grid and actually delivers electricity to America’s citizens and their businesses, hospitals, emergency managers and other critical civil infrastructure.

There was hope that this situation might change based on former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s January 27, 2021 confirmation hearing to become Secretary of Energy.

Her encouraging response to questions by Senator Murkowski indicated that she understands at least the importance of the distribution grid:

". . . We have 5 million miles of distribution wires, 200,000 miles of high-voltage electric wires. I haven’t been fully briefed on the national security, and the confidential aspects of the SolarWinds cyber hack, but clearly that’s one example and we are getting hacked all the time and attacked all the time. We will have, inside the DOE, a person at a very high level that is responsible for making sure the response to this is coordinated. We have to harden our electric grid for protection of our energy system. I hope that this is a part of the infrastructure package that will be coming from the administration as well." (Emphasis added)

But little if anything has happened to protect this absolutely vital infrastructure.

And while her response was in the context of cyberattack threats, remember that EMP constitutes the most catastrophic cyberattack strategy — as pointed out by the Congressional EMP Commission.

Such an EMP attack strategy is included in the military doctrine of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran — and possibly could be executed by terrorists.

The Department of Energy has a key role in protecting the electric grid against EMP/GMD threats, but is still failing to address this existential threat to all U.S. citizens.

Nowhere is this clearer that in its refusal to fund an assessment of the large transformers that are essential to viable operations of the electric grid, as discussed in my Newsmax articles of July 16, 2021 and July 22, 2021 respectively.

As discussed in the second, Duke Energy, a partner in the Lake Wylie Pilot Study from its beginning, over two years ago gave a large transformer, worth over a million dollars, to Savannah River National Laboratory for testing up to threat level EMP events — and it has sat idle and deteriorating in North Charleston for lack of DOE funding to ship it to the SRNL site and conduct threat level EMP and potentially Cyber threats.

And although the Lake Wylie Pilot Study demonstrated well over two years ago that we know how affordably to protect the grid from the bottom-up, our effort stalled due to the bureaucratic lethargy in Washington.

Too bad, so sad. . . Will the current infrastructure deliberations make any difference?