Officials emphasize regional approach

Cities and counties must take a regional approach in developing homeland security plans or risk squandering federal funds, state and local government officials testified before a Senate hearing today.

"With 351 towns and cities, we don't want 351 plans," said Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, referring to the number of municipalities in his state. "We want regionality."

He said he learned that lesson overseeing the organization and security of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, where federal, state, local and private-sector representatives worked to create a single integrated security plan. For example, developing interoperable communications for Salt Lake City without involving its neighboring jurisdictions would have been inefficient and ineffective.

"This kind of interoperability was only possible because of a statewide plan, a theaterwide plan," he told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which has been holding a series of hearings on strengthening and streamlining homeland security grant programs to state and local governments.

That same approach is needed when developing statewide plans with the assistance of local first responders and officials, he said, adding, "[I] don't know how you encourage regionality unless the state's leading the effort."

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick agreed with Romney, saying his city has worked diligently to shore up security, protect its border with Canada, and upgrade the telecommunications, information and operational systems that will be used not only during terrorist incidents but also for day-to-day emergencies within the city and in the surrounding area. In fact, the city's interoperable communications system will be fully operational by year's end, he said.

However, he said, the federal government needs to "look at the uniqueness of each city and target that uniqueness." For example, Detroit has spent $13 million from Sept. 11, 2001, through the end of 2002 beefing up security at the Canadian border. "Dollars need to follow where the activity is," he stressed.

He said U.S. mayors need a "direct relationship with the federal government" — presumably a funding relationship — because cities contribute a great deal to the gross domestic product of the country. Otherwise, funding can be "politicized" within a state and not be spent efficiently.

Romney also stressed improving intelligence and information sharing to prevent terrorist acts.

While technology wasn't specifically mentioned during the hearing, senators sought to understand what Congress can do to improve the way federal funds are distributed better and faster to state and local governments for planning, training, exercises and equipment. Many have complained about federal red tape and a fragmented system of allocating such homeland security funds.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who heads the committee, said she is introducing legislation creating an interagency committee "charged with eliminating duplication in planning requirements, simplifying the application process, and helping states and localities promote interoperability of their equipment.

The ranking minority committee member, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who is also a Democratic presidential candidate, said he's proposing $16 billion in homeland security funds for state and local governments in the next fiscal year, including $4 billion for first responders to improve communication during a crisis.

"We are in a war," he said. "We should be strengthening our frontline troops, not eroding them."

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