Mayors hear homeland pledge

Two Bush administration officials at the forefront of homeland security matters emphasized to about 300 mayors Jan. 23 that the fight against terrorism cannot be won without addressing the needs of local governments, and they pledged to create a "21st century partnership among state, local and federal entities."

"You are the domestic troops. You are the front line," said former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, the nation's homeland security chief, at the U.S. Conference of Mayors' 70th Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Ridge followed U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who spoke at length about aviation security and protections for the nation's roads and ports.

President Bush is expected to meet today with mayors, presumably to discuss funding issues. The association released a survey Jan. 23 that estimated cities are expected to spend a combined additional $2.6 billion on security through 2002 ["Security costs soar, survey shows"].

Ridge, who touched on several issues during his 15-minute talk, said his job is to create a national homeland security strategy that addresses first-response capability. He said the federal government would no longer dictate to state and local governments what they should do or what they need. The threat of terrorism has given the country an opportunity to restructure that relationship, Ridge said, adding that his office is listening to the needs of cities.

He mentioned next month's Super Bowl in New Orleans and Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City as examples of where state, local and federal officials have been working for more than a year to ensure the best possible security.

Ridge said the country also has an opportunity to address quality-of-life issues as it tackles homeland security matters. For example, beefing up the pubic health system infrastructure not only will address bioterrorism threats, but also will bolster other public health matters, he said. He also pledged that the federal government would share information in a timely manner.

Mineta introduced John Magaw, who heads the newly formed Transportation Security Administration. TSA eventually will have 30,000 employees, more than the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Border Patrol combined, said Mineta, adding that it will be fully operational by Nov. 19.

Among other things, the agency will be responsible for deploying new baggage-screening technologies, expanding the air marshal program and looking at new research. The agency also will work to develop heightened security procedures for railways, highways, transit systems, maritime operations and pipelines.

Mineta added that the U.S. Coast Guard has increased patrols and created a sea marshal program similar to the air marshal program. Sea marshals would be placed in strategic areas on large commercial vessels as protection. He said $93 million in grants are available to enhance security and operations at seaports.

"[Security] will be better today than yesterday and it will be better tomorrow," Mineta said.

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