Governors Launch Anti-Terror Network
By John Nagy, Staff Writer
Its purpose: To help officials operate more effectively across all levels of government and the private sector to prevent or respond to terrorist activity.
Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt (R) said the initiative would start with work in the five to eight states "that will best be prepared to accomplish it" and that the list of states initially involved would take shape within the next month.
He said he does not yet have an estimate for the cost of the project but funding would come from a combination of state and federal money and aid from the Markle Foundation, a communications and information technology organization.
Leavitt, whose state has earned recognition as a national leader in digital technology and Internet policy, cast the nation's war on terror in terms pulled from the computer age.
"One cannot fight a networked enemy (such as al Qaeda) with a mainframe response," he said, referring to the Bush administration's national security strategy documents and congressional debate over the shape of the proposed Department of Homeland Security.
Governors would be responsible for creating compatible "platforms," a word he used both as a metaphor for state security plans and as a literal reference to information systems streamlining the exchange of information among police and investigation teams, the courts, public health and emergency officials and others with authority over the nation's energy, transportation, food and natural resources.
He said that his own state, which gained extensive experience in cooperative security efforts during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, would participate in the pilot project.
Leavitt also lauded Pennsylvania's JNet state and local criminal justice information system as a national model of the kind of integration he envisions taking place across the broad spectrum of agencies from public safety to agriculture that play key security roles from downtown Manhattan to the rural West.
"This can't be seen as a new system," Leavitt said of the anti-terror communications and IT initiative. "This has to be about integrating and improving existing systems."
Addressing a room full of reporters at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., alongside Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes and Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton, a pair of Southern Democrats, and Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, a fellow Western Republican, Leavitt emphasized the need for a state-driven national anti-terrorism plan.
But he admitted that the states are still rising to the occasion. "There are plans in most of the states but the reality is that a lot of work needs to be done. First of all, I think we're all just figuring out what the purpose of a state homeland security plan should be, let alone how to integrate them."
"One of the pieces of the project that we announced earlier today will be to develop a general template that the states can ... form their state plans around."
Patton, who assumed the leadership of the National Governors Association during the group's annual summer meeting in Boise, Idaho, in July, announced the creation of an NGA homeland security task force. Leavitt and Barnes would serve as co-chairs, with Patton, Kempthorne and Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) also playing lead roles.
The four governors expressed concerns about shortcomings in post-Sept. 11 federal aid for state and local homeland security initiatives, pointing specifically to the $2.5 billion in emergency spending the White House Office of Management and Budget withheld from a supplemental funding package President Bush signed in August.
With the exception of the $865 million in bioterrorism grants released earlier this year, Barnes said state and local governments have "almost entirely" borne the new costs of homeland security. "We can't really wait until next year to get this money," he said.
Leavitt and Kempthorne said states would have to re-examine their priorities to see whether they could dig deeper into their own pockets at a time when many are seeking to cover revenue shortfalls reaching into the billions of dollars.
Kempthorne also unveiled the completion of NGA's Governors' Guide to Emergency Management: Homeland Security, which he called "a chart to uncharted waters," particularly for the dozens of new governors and their staffs who will take office after the Nov. 5 elections.
The document addresses state emergency plans and powers, protocols for the continuity of operations and alert systems, outlines the role of the National Guard as state-controlled homeland defense forces and makes suggestions for communication with the public.