From the ground up

Immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Bush administration officials acknowledged that any federal plan for improving homeland security would require close collaboration with state and local governments. After one year, however, it has become clear how important yet difficult such collaboration will be.

Most recently, Steve Cooper, senior director of information integration and chief information officer for the Office of Homeland Security, campaigned for the development of a nationwide enterprise architecture, which aims to improve communications among federal, state and local governments.

Although work with state governments is picking up, Cooper said, coordination among city agencies is problematic. How does the administration, working with a cast of a thousand equals, identify a central point for coordinating information technology and information sharing?

Despite the talk about the importance of state and local first responders, many people still underestimate the essential role of local government officials. The best homeland security plans will founder quickly if city and county agencies are ill-equipped and poorly trained to carry out a plan or are uninformed when a crisis occurs.

The federal government might rely on existing relationships among federal, state and local agencies, but the administration's homeland security strategy would be better served by a more formal governance structure.

If cities and counties do not have an existing organization that's up to the task — the equivalent of the National Association of State CIOs — then federal and state officials should work with them to establish an appropriate working group.

It's not a case of creating more bureaucracy, a common criticism of the proposed Homeland Security Department, but of providing the necessary channels for communication. Without such links, the administration's homeland security strategy is perpetually at risk.

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