Funding woes hinder security assessments

"Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared"

The nation isn't doing a good job of assessing its vulnerabilities to terrorist attacks, and "rickety" funding formulas and fragmented grants assistance are exacerbating the situation, congressional and homeland security experts told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee yesterday.

Such persistent problems nearly two years after the terrorist attacks doesn't bode well for first responders, who still must deal with inadequate training, a lack of interoperable communications, protective gear and other equipment, and poor information sharing, the bipartisan panel said.

A Council of Foreign Relations report, called "Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared," said the country may have to spend more than $100 billion to meet first-responder needs over the next five years. Despite the assessment, former New Hampshire Sen. Warren Rudman, who co-authored the report, said that the figure is just a guess. "Nobody knows what the number is," he said.

Witness after witness stressed that no one knows how much money is needed for homeland security because nobody - federal, state, and local officials - has identified minimum standards for protection. They also called for reform of the grant application process.

Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) testified that since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks Congress has appropriated more than $14 billion for first responders alone, an increase of more than 1,000 percent. But he warned no matter how much you spend, if you spend money in the wrong places, security gaps would still exist.

"That means all funds should be dispersed on the basis of hard-nosed threat assessments," said Cox, who is chairman of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

But the homeland security funding formulas for states and municipalities are "rickety," he said. And the grant application process is outdated and convoluted, resulting in delays and a funding distortion that "does nothing but exacerbate the risks we face."

He suggested that states, as well as multi-state and interstate regions, could determine their vulnerabilities on an ongoing basis simultaneously with the federal government, which would complete and constantly update a national vulnerability assessment. These states and regions can then apply to the homeland security department for funding for specific needs.

"The department would match state and local vulnerability assessments against all (that) the federal government knows about our terrorist enemies and our national vulnerabilities. Federal first responder grant assistance would flow to where the risk is greatest," he said.

Rudman said there is adequate intelligence available to do a threat assessment and prioritize which cities or regions need the most protection.

Richard Clarke, a long-time security expert and former head of the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, said government officials should also use standard metropolitan statistical areas - the total population in and around a major city - to determine needs and funding.

There's a correlation between critical infrastructure and population density, said Clarke, who co-authored the Council on Foreign Relations report. He said the federal government should encourage greater cooperation among local governments within metro regions by providing financial incentives - or even threatening to withhold money.

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