Meet the Fellows: An Interview with Mark Harvey

IOP Fellow Mark P. Harvey is the former special assistant to the president and senior director for resilience policy on the National Security Council staff. Over the past 15 years, he has authored a wide variety of plans, policies, and doctrines to foster resilience through effective risk management. He has been the lead author for critical infrastructure security and resilience programs, especially those in the Government Facilities Sector, provided physical security and risk management training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, and developed and assessed continuity programs for the U.S. Intelligence Community. 

Harvard Political Review: What were you doing before you came to the Harvard Institute of Politics to serve as a Fellow?

Mark Harvey: Well I’m a career civil servant, and my last division was being detailed to the National Security Council staff as a special assistant to the president and senior director for resilience policy. In that position, I ran an office that was responsible for working with all federal departments and agencies to set, recommend, oversee, and maintain accountability for domestic preparedness and response efforts. I was in that position through the two worst seasons of natural disasters that the United States has ever seen, and had a hand in over 150 emergency responses that provided more than $140 billion to American communities to facilitate their response to those challenges and their recovery from them.

Prior to that, I served a number of years in the intelligence community and also in the Department of Homeland Security, working on infrastructure security and continuity of operations planning. I was very fortunate that by the time I got to the White House, I had deep experience in continuity planning and critical infrastructure security …  [which] became elements of the [work] that I led while I was at the White House.

HPR: Tell me about your journey in politics.

MH: You know, I think there have been a lot of surprises along the way. But I definitely knew that I wanted to do meaningful public service with my career. I think public service is really just one of the highest callings, and being able to benefit the American people is a tremendously rewarding profession. When I was in high school, I actually volunteered with the Civil Air Patrol, which was the Air Force auxiliary, and was part of a search and rescue team [through which I] learned emergency management. I spent about three years as a higher education policy analyst and then spent another three years as an election analyst looking at [what influences] voter turnout. I finally came back to the emergency management field after 9/11 and started as a contractor for the Department of Homeland Security shortly after it was established. Then, I moved on to being a federal employee with DHS as well, spending time looking at risk management for critical infrastructure, especially government facilities, and helping to devise methodologies to keep federal facilities and personnel safe.

[At DHS,] I was looking at the intelligence community’s assets and functions to ensure that their critical capabilities can always remain viable, even in the face of a complex and dynamic threat environment that we’re faced with today. [That experience] culminated with service on the NSC staff at a very critical time. I found it [the NSC] to be tremendously rewarding, being able to impact millions of lives across the country.

HPR: How has your time at Harvard as an IOP Fellow been affected by the sudden campus evacuation?

MH: It has definitely a different battle rhythm than what I thought we were going to have or that we had started off when I first got here. And I commend Harvard for taking very early and drastic action to combat the spread of this disease even before a lot was known about it. That was a very tough call, and I think [it] shows a commitment to Harvard’s leadership within not just Cambridge, but also the worldwide community. Now, for me, I was having a great time looking at election security and working with just a fantastic set of students here that run the liaison team. They were just a tremendous group to work with: highly motivated and highly engaged. So while we can’t have a lot of in-person play, what I’ve really focused on now is to use this [time] as an opportunity to demonstrate solid crisis leadership as a way to inspire people [to move] toward public service, which at the end of the day is the mission of the Institute of Politics. 

HPR: Since you’ve brought up election security, given the current crisis, might we see electronic voting in 2020? Or will the presidential election be postponed?

MH: As DHS is always fond of saying, we are contingency planners. And if you look at the challenges that happen on Election Day, from weather to broken machines [and] unexpected lines, election administrators have proven themselves to be good contingency planners [in the past]. I think they need to be looking at what measures are going to be necessary for November, as we’ve already seen some delayed primaries. But in November, everybody needs to be on the same page. 

This is also the first pandemic that’s going on in the age of misinformation, and we’ve already seen false stories that have been planted and amplified by adversaries related to the disease. In response to the disease, people are trying to feed various conspiracy theories and misinformation. And as the response goes on, this provides what we would call a “much greater attack surface” for our adversaries. So changing the rules in the middle of the game is not something that’s normally done. But in this case, in order to make sure that we can have maximum access to the polls in November, amid what will still likely be an ongoing situation, we’re probably not going to be at the point of having a viable vaccine out there and ready by then. So we’ve got to figure out how to maintain social distancing during the November election. But doing all of that is still another opportunity for our adversaries to mess with the work, so to speak.

The question is not just “Will this be resolved by November?” but rather, “Will this resolve with enough time for states to change their system of voting and if necessary, implement a new reliable, accessible, and accurate system of voting?” And if that is the case, [states] also need a significant amount of time to communicate what those changes in polling procedures are going to be to the electorate. So frankly, if anybody is going to make changes to the way that we vote in November, it will need to be done by the early summer, so that [we can hold] a fair and valid election in November.

HPR: What are your thoughts on how the Trump administration has responded so far to COVID-19?

MH: So they have [responded] in a way that sticks with very long established doctrine for emergency management. That is, [the response is] locally executed, state managed, and federally supported. The challenge here is that [the virus] is nationwide. And when you have a 50 state disaster, going with the traditional doctrine doesn’t necessarily work well. And what we’ve seen is that the federal government is now leaning on states and localities to make critical decisions to acquire the equipment and supplies that are necessary to respond to this outbreak. 

There are opportunities to speed [federal] assistance along much further ahead in this process. There has been guidance that’s been put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services, and by DHS. But still, that guidance has been acted upon differently around the country. So in an age where there is a rapid flow of information moving through the media, it’s very easy to see where we’ve had disparate responses across the country.

[The Trump administration] tried to be very data-driven at first. I was just leaving the NSC as this crisis was unfolding, and we had been watching it very closely in China. In my last couple of months [at NSC], we understood that [the virus] was likely to come to the United States. And we had spent a great deal of time planning for pandemics. I was part of an exercise with HHS last August, looking at a scenario very similar to COVID-19 and identifying meaningful corrective actions. 

HPR: What are some things that the average citizen can do today to help in the recovery process? Obviously, we need to follow social distancing protocol and adhere to government guidelines. But what else can people do to help aid in this recovery?

MH: I think the first thing is, as you say, is to follow the direction of your local officials. But then, start looking at different voluntary organizations and the efforts that they have underway. I know that the Red Cross has a tremendous shortage of blood because blood drives have been canceled, so donating blood is one way for people to be tremendously helpful. If you look on the  National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster website [], they will have a complete and comprehensive list of voluntary organizations that are assisting food banks that are running out of food. There are homeless services that are still necessary, and these organizations have been working to adjust the services that they provide to be able to maintain social distancing but still serve their vulnerable communities that they’ve been dedicated to for quite some time. So I would definitely recommend that as a resource. We need to unleash the American spirit toward volunteerism in this very tough time, and I think [doing so] will help people focus on what can actually be done across their communities. 

Image Credit: Harvard Institute of Politics

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