Feds think regionally

Rethinking how best to finance the mobilization of homeland security-related resources, federal officials are exploring funding regions in addition to states and cities.

The regional concept isn't new, and some models already exist. For example, Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia and southern Maryland have partnered to establish an interoperable real-time wireless data communications system. States are also exploring forming intelligence-sharing centers as a faster way to view and analyze data.

"I think the concerns about terrorist activities heighten the need for cross-

collaboration, cross-jurisdiction," said Susan Benton, director of strategic initiatives at the Center for Digital Government. "It has just deepened the ability of the cities and counties and towns and regional areas to work with one another to come together on a more routine basis and begin to sort through what some of the regional efforts would need to be in case of an emergency."

This summer, governors received a questionnaire from the Homeland Security Department focusing on regional planning, said Christine LaPaille, communications director at the National Governors Association. Funding regions makes it easier to improve the capacity for certain capabilities, such as urban search and rescue or hazardous material cleanup, for a given region rather than for every city. In the long run, it's also a cheaper investment.

A new bill, H.R. 3266, proposed by Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, aims to streamline the federal grants process for first responders and specifically encourages states and regions to apply for funding.

James Garner, mayor of Hempstead, N.Y., in testifying about the bill, questioned how a region should be defined and to what extent individual cities would have a say in the process. Mayors aren't clear what requirements DHS would operate under to approve regional applications, he said.

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