The buck stops where?
- By Diane Frank
- Mar 07, 2004
With many local communities reporting that they have yet to see any funds for homeland security, federal, state and local officials are involved in finger-pointing about where that money ended up.
One thing is not subject to debate, officials agree: The process used to distribute the funds did not work.
The states have done their part, meeting every federal deadline, sources say. The money is readily available, but many local agencies have not been told how to access it.
There has been much talk from local officials, Congress, Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge and President Bush about the slow pace of funding to cities, police and fire departments, hospitals and emergency response units. The U.S. Conference of Mayors released a survey in January reporting that the majority of cities reviewed in the study haven't seen any funding at all.
The money is moving as fast as
Congress and DHS require, though, said Clifford Ong, director of homeland security for Indiana. In a meeting last month at DHS, Suzanne Mencer, director of the Office for Domestic Preparedness, confirmed that "the money is not stuck anywhere," Ong said. "Every state has met every deadline given to us by the department."
The problem, his fellow directors agreed at a briefing with reporters, is that state officials have not adequately explained how the funding process works to local officials, citizens and the private sector.
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.
One of the biggest lessons state officials learned from the meetings they had last month with DHS was that "we've got to do a better job of articulating and managing expectations," he said. "This was always a lot easier before we had any money....I think everyone recognizes that there are frustrations moving forward."
States are following the framework
set up by Congress and DHS, said Tim Daniel, Missouri's homeland security
director. "It is neither a block grant, nor is it a blank check," he said. "We have certain rules that must be followed."
Homeland security officials, knowing there is not enough money available for every potential risk, are focusing their resources on a handful of top priorities. This list will likely change faster than new money can be appropriated. Sometimes funding shouldn't be spent so it's available when a new threat arises, said Gen. Tim Lowenberg, adjutant general and homeland security adviser for Washington state.
Officials need to improve the process for bringing first responders into the planning process. State agencies are mostly focusing on ensuring that cities, counties and states can collaborate 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.
That is important, but there is no common procedure for ensuring that local officials are included in the strategy process. That is an area in which the National Governors Association and its Center for Best Practices could help, Foresman said. DHS should also get involved, particularly to help bring together the different areas of the country and levels of government so that everyone is communicating.
"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 how 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.