Homeland security directors want improved communications

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices

States have met federal deadlines for turning over homeland security funding to local agencies, but they must do a better job of communicating strategies to government, citizens and the private sector, officials said today.

There has been much talk from local officials, Congress, and even President Bush and Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge about the slow flow of funding to first responders. The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) last month released a survey saying that the majority of cities haven't seen any funding at all.

Several of the state homeland security directors met Friday in Washington, D.C., as part of the National Governors Association Winter Meeting to address the concerns raised about the flow of funding.

When it comes down to it, if there is "one place where the states haven't done what we should have done, it's education," said George Foresman, Virginia's deputy assistant to the governor for commonwealth preparedness.

If there's anything state officials have learned from the last few days meeting with DHS, "we've got to do a better job of articulating and managing expectations," he said.

In a meeting yesterday at DHS, Suzanne Mencer, director of the Office of Domestic Preparedness, confirmed that "the money is not stuck anywhere," said Clifford Ong, director of homeland security for Indiana. "Every state has met every deadline given to us by the department."

There are many questions about where the money is being spent. Instead of buying items and services that local officials didn't request, states should help fund existing city projects, mayors said. State agencies mostly are focusing on making sure cities, counties and states can all work together on a daily basis and during an emergency, Ong said. "We're using what we have to try to bring about interoperability in their equipment," he said.

There is no common procedure for ensuring that local officials are included in the strategy process, and that is an area where the NGA and its Center for Best Practices could definitely help, Foresman said. "We've all got to collectively quit pointing fingers and sit down and make this happen," he said.

There are good practices and procedures in place in some states, officials said. For example, Georgia's All Hazards Council — which includes local fire, police and other officials — sets priorities across the state and determines where money will be spent, said Bill Hitchens, director of the state's Office of Homeland Security. Much of that cooperation was already in place, however, because of preparation for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, he said.

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