Local role getting short shrift, critics say

After the first year of "all-for-one" enthusiasm, you can almost hear the disillusionment setting in. The promised cooperation between federal government officials and their state and local counterparts has been slow to materialize, and the troops are getting restless.

"It's very disappointing to me," said Cameron Whitman, director of policy

and federal relations for the National League of Cities. "The federal government moved quickly and made some big decisions after Sept. 11, and then the political issues started to creep in. Now every

single thing this administration does

seems to have an ideological component

to it."

Also, jurisdictional conflicts continue to hamper homeland security efforts, she said. The Justice Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been locked in a fight over who is responsible for emergency management at the local level, she pointed out, and consequently "some necessary decisions" have still not been made.

However, cities in particular have not been sitting around waiting for federal help before they do something about homeland security, she said, but without enough people, guidance and funding, "there's only so much they can do."

"It's actually very depressing, to tell the truth," said John Cohen, president and chief executive officer of PSComm LLC, who sees an even more fundamental rift developing between the federal government and state and local governments.

Federal government officials say they understand the importance of state and

local entities and that homeland security begins at the local level, Cohen said,

but their actions to date would suggest otherwise.

"In Washington [D.C.], state and local are seen as first responders, which they are," he said. "But the federal government doesn't seem capable of going beyond that thought to also seeing them as an integral part of the detection and prevention part of homeland defense."

Cohen believes this "Washington-

centric" attitude is preventing the development of a coherent national strategy for homeland defense.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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