Panel Urges Anti-Terrorism Spending Guidelines
By Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer
Tens of billions of federal dollars are flowing to state and local governments to help them guard against terrorism and beef up emergency preparedness, but without greater oversight, the money may be wasted or worse.
That's one of the conclusions of a blue-ribbon panel led by former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore, which released its final report Monday (12/15).
"Ten trillion [for homeland security] will make no difference if we don't know what we're spending it on," Gilmore said at a news conference in Virginia Monday.
State and local governments often resist federal oversight, but in this case they both want and need standards for what equipment and technology to purchase as well as what kinds of training and exercises they should provide, panel members said.
"The federal government has not given us an endgame," said Patrick R. Ralston, a commission member and executive director of Indiana's State Emergency Management Agency. "We have had to work things out ourselves." Indiana has undertaken its own efforts to coordinate statewide emergency responses, Ralston said, including a law mandating mutual aid agreements among all 92 of the state's counties and a catalog of emergency equipment throughout the state.
But the state has no way of making first responders in each county purchase equipment that will work in harmony with other counties, Ralston said.
"The key thing is, there aren't any standards," said A.D. Vickery, deputy chief of the Seattle Fire Department and a commission member.
Gilmore's panel said that lacking a "clear articulated vision" from the federal government, each of the states and territories is moving to combat terrorism in its own way.
"The Federal government is moving forward in many areas and simply expects states and localities to catch up," the panel said in its final report. Until the federal government gives states more guidance "there will be continuing fragmentation and potential misapplication of resources," the report said.
Even as they criticized the status quo, panel members conceded the federal government has taken some early steps to regulate security spending.
George Foresman, vice-chairman of the Gilmore Commission and deputy director of Virginia's Office of Commonwealth Preparedness said the federal Office of Domestic Preparedness is requiring states to submit homeland security spending plans by Jan. 31st.
Some national guidelines for future spending are expected to emerge from that process, Foresman said, but they will leave about two thirds of homeland security spending unregulated.
"We're very much caught up in agencies doing what they want to do, rather than what they need to do." As a start, the report calls for a single grant-making entity within the Department of Homeland Security and more coordination of grant between federal agencies to avoid overlapping programs.
The 17-member commission, which is made up of federal, state and local officials, first responders, security and public safety experts and military representatives was created nearly two years before the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001to examine how the nation would respond to weapons of mass destruction.
The report also recommends a streamlined process for giving security clearances to local law enforcement agencies and warns against violating civil liberties in the fight against terrorism.