Homeland connection a priority

Department of Homeland Security

Exactly how the proposed Homeland Security Department would work with state

and local first responders is yet to be determined, but creating the connection

is a priority, experts told the House Government Reform Committee June 11.

Part of the Bush administration's plan for the new department would

bring under one organization all agencies that provide grants, training

and other assistance to first responders. That would enable the administration

to exercise all its resources for communications, training and information

sharing, said Bruce Baughman, director of the Office of National Preparedness

at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA, which would lead the emergency preparedness and response section

of the new department, already is developing a streamlined process to get

grant money to first responders and develop communications and training

programs, Baughman said.

Because all homeland security incidents will happen in some locality,

a priority for the department's funding should be placed on establishing

the structure and technology at the state and local levels to share information

and expertise, testified Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), ranking member on

the Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Permanent

Select Committee on Intelligence.

A single structure will make it much easier to coordinate the exchange,

whether it is investigative information coming into the new department or

warning information being sent to first responders, said Rep. Mac Thornberry

(R-Texas), co-sponsor of a House bill to create a Homeland Security Department.

"You have one phone number to call, rather than a phone book," he said.

Harman said that any action taken by Congress likely will have to include

a mandate for information sharing between federal agencies and the state

and local responders because the administration's proposal does not include

realigning the major sources for information — the FBI and the CIA.

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