Locals wary while Homeland forms

As the Homeland Security Department is assembled, state and local officials are concerned that federal focus on the restructuring of government may overshadow the new agency's mandate.

"I think if we spend an awful lot of time sometimes organizing ourselves, the view becomes internal rather than external," said Aldona Valicenti, Kentucky's chief information officer. "I'm hoping that we can maintain a balance of the ability of the department to do its internal work of reorganization and still keep looking to the sources that they need for cooperation, and that is state and local governments."

Costis Toregas, president of Public Technology Inc., the technology arm of three national government associations, said he feared homeland security itself would "probably suffer a little bit." An existing entity — possibly the White House's Office of Homeland Security — should operate as an intergovernmental intermediary while the new department is fashioned, he said.

And Kenneth Mayfield, a Dallas county commissioner and president of the National Association of Counties, said, "We just need to make sure the administration follows through in keeping close contact with state and local governments since we're on the front lines of any disasters that are going to happen based on terrorist activities."

While several state and local officials and experts expressed similar cautions, they also welcomed the birth of the new department, which will combine 22 agencies and 170,000 employees. The federal agency carries a strong theme of providing state and local planning and assistance, and it also appears heavily weighted toward using technology.

However local officials were disappointed that the bill, which authorizes $38 billion for the department and was signed into law by President Bush Nov. 25, didn't contain the $3.5 billion he pledged earlier this year for cities and their first responders.

Nationally, since Sept. 11, 2001, cities have spent more than $2.6 billion in overtime, equipment and planning costs for homeland security, but they have seen little federal funding to offset or mitigate the expenditures, according to some estimates.

"We all know that technology is very, very expensive, and in order to address our problems with [interoperable] communications and with better data retrieval [systems] there's going to have to be funds," said Karen Anderson, mayor of Minnetonka, Minn., and president of the National League of Cities.

NLC and six other major national associations representing state and local governments will be pressing their cause, Anderson said. The issue may yet be resolved when Congress completes 11 unpassed appropriations bills for this fiscal year.

Another challenge will be to accommodate the greater call for information sharing — the department's de facto motto — that has emerged in homeland security efforts.

Missouri CIO Gerry Wethington, who is the president of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers said officials must make sure such that the architecture to support information sharing technologies and policies is put on a par with the need for "boots and suits," an oft-used description of equipment, gear and training for emergency personnel.

"My hope is that that's recognized at the federal level, and when they begin to put their programs together that they set funds aside to make sure that they address the technology needs that are necessary to drive homeland security and support homeland security," Wethington said.

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