State, local officials praise Bush plan

State and local government officials are applauding President Bush's proposal

for a Cabinet-level Homeland Security Department, which would better coordinate

defense efforts and put a spotlight on technology programs and projects.

Under the White House proposal, at least 22 existing agencies and offices

— and likely more — would be housed under the one department. Several,

such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Critical Infrastructure

Assurance Office and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, have strong

relationships with state and local governments.

"If I had to look at it from Kentucky's perspective, right now, when

we interact with many of the agencies, we actually go to multiple places

for either information or requirements that the states may have," said Aldona

Valicenti, Kentucky's chief information officer. "I think having that focused

in one area will certainly make it easier from an interaction, there's no

doubt about that.

"When we talk about information technology, that tends to be one infrastructure

that we're talking about, and when you're talking to multiple agencies,

that is not always well understood," she continued. "It would appear to

me if and when this is centralized in one Cabinet-level position and one

agency, hopefully the technology issues would be better focused."

Valicenti, a past president of the National Association of State Chief

Information Officers and still a member of its executive committee, said

the group has been following legislation calling for the creation of such

a department. She said the White House proposal, which she said is "a step

in the right direction," sounds similar to what Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.)

has proposed.

Bryan Gold, a spokesman for Public Technology Inc. — the technology

arm of the National Association of Counties (NACo), the National League

of Cities and the International City/County Management Association — said

the change could make it easier for municipalities to deal with one central

agency than having to contend with several programs scattered throughout

the federal government.

"You've got it under one umbrella instead of having to hunt and peck,"

he said. "It casts the projects and programs and what people really need

to know in a much brighter light because...it could be buried three or four

layers deep in another department."

Edwin Rosado, NACo's legislative director, said technology is going

to be "key" in this new department.

"They're going to have responsibilities that range from border and transportation

security, information analysis and infrastructure protection, preparedness

response, bioterrorism, nuclear/chemical threats, and technology is going

to be able to provide them the increased communication that they need to

be able to get decisions done quickly and take actions faster," he said.

"Not only that but be able to help to provide whatever new critical telecommunications

infrastructure may need to be developed."

Rosado said that is critical for the protection of America's 3,066 counties,

75 percent of which are rural.

"And it's important that those rural areas be protected just as much

as the urban ones," he said. "We have a lot of critical infrastructure,

a lot of big possible, potential targets — dams, bridges, etc. — that

are located in remote areas."

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