Locals seek help for homeland
- By Diane Frank
- Dec 11, 2001
U.S. Conference of Mayors
State and local officials appeared before two Senate committees Dec. 11
to call on the federal government for assistance as local governments bear
much of the burden for securing the home front in the war on terrorism.
The hearing coincided with the release of the U.S. Conference of Mayors'
final homeland security recommendations, which details the strain on municipalities:
"Of the approximately $10 billion federal terrorism budget identified
by the Office of Management and Budget, only 4.9 percent is allocated to
state and local first response activities," the report stated. "And, of
this limited amount, most goes to the states rather than directly to America's
cities and major population centers."
Because most of the front-line action in the homeland security arena
is the responsibility of state and local officials, that discrepancy in
funding for a national issue is disappointing, said Marc Morial, New Orleans
mayor and president of the conference, testifying before the Senate Governmental
The conference's report includes recommendations on matters ranging
from an immediate increase in investment for intelligent transportation
systems to merging federal and local intelligence databases.
The report and the government officials at the hearings also endorsed
the idea of a $3 billion flexible homeland security block grant, proposed
in legislation co-sponsored by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Charles
Schumer (D-N.Y.) and others.
"The types of investments in the future to be supported by a local anti-terrorism
block grant include mobile command centers, communications equipment, hazardous
materials handling gear, emergency drills and other locally determined needs,"
said Javier Gonzales, president of the National Association of Counties.
Many questions revolve around increasing communications and partnerships
among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Federal funding
is also considered necessary in this area -- the mayors' report calls for
increased funding for surveillance systems and existing federal law enforcement
assistance programs -- but the cultural and legal barriers to information
sharing are the immediate problems, officials told the Senate Judiciary
Committee's Administrative Oversight and the Courts Subcommittee.
Since Sept. 11, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert
Mueller have met many times with state and local officials and have come
to understand the "very dangerous gap" that the lack of communication between
governmental levels has created, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley told the
But that understanding means little when help has not reached the front-line
employees performing daily police work and investigations while leaders
are deciding on the policy for sharing, O'Malley said.
"There is no time for us to say, 'We'll get to it as soon as we set
up a process,' " he said.
The Utah Olympic Public Safety Command, an intergovernmental task force
set up for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, is a good example
of how information sharing among the different levels of government can
work, said Jon Greiner, president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association
and a member of the command.
Greiner and the other officials testifying at the hearing supported
a bill sponsored by Schumer and others in the Senate, with a companion bill
sponsored by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) in the House. Those bills would
allow, but not require, federal law enforcement to share information gathered
under the recently passed USA Patriot Act with state and local agencies.