Governors propose homeland initiatives

The National Governors Association unveiled several initiatives last week in promoting a "bottom-up" approach to homeland security rather than the federal "top-down" strategy.

Among the initiatives is a pilot project to improve information sharing among law enforcement and other first responders, courts, health agencies and the homeland security offices of about six states.

The National Governors Association (NGA) also announced that a homeland security task force of governors would examine those initiatives and how best to strengthen the security of driver's licenses. And it released a comprehensive reference document called "A Governor's Guide to Emergency Management Volume Two: Homeland Security."

Four state governors, who made announcements at a Washington, D.C., press conference Sept. 19, emphasized shared responsibility with the federal government in creating a national plan that includes state and local agencies.

"A national plan must embrace a bottom-up approach," said Gov. Paul Patton of Kentucky, NGA chairman. "A top-down federal government approach will just not work. Homeland security is really hometown security."

Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt said that President Bush clearly laid out a national strategy and "common vocabulary" for homeland security, but it's the aggregation of the 50 state plans that will make up a coordinated national plan.

Leadership for a national plan has to come from the governors, who have "constitutional authority," said Leavitt, who will be co-chairman with Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes of the task force to oversee such initiatives.

The pilot project, in collaboration with the Markle Foundation, will include five to eight as-yet unidentified states to form a laboratory for information sharing horizontally and for integrating state systems vertically, Leavitt said. It also would involve local governments, federal agencies and the private sector.

The task force will focus on enhancing minimum standards for state-issued documents such as driver's licenses, Patton said, including integrity of license issuance and appropriate information sharing among law enforcement agencies within a state and among states.

The governors didn't specifically mention technology's role in homeland security, but it was evident in their priorities.

"In this war on terrorism, we are fighting a networked enemy," Leavitt said. "One cannot combat a networked enemy with a mainframe response."

State priorities, Barnes said, include interoperable communications systems for first responders, reliable and timely intelligence information provided by the federal government, improved public health networks to respond to bioterrorism, technical assistance to identify and protect critical infrastructures, and a regular flow of federal funds for such efforts.

"Today, a large portion of the cost of homeland security has been borne almost entirely by the states or local governments," Barnes said. "We can't really wait until next year to wait for the money. We're not here with a cup out."

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