Locals seek help for homeland

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

Affairs Committee.

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

subcommittee.

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.

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