Sunday, April 18, 2004

Speed up homeland defenses


Only a trickle of the $8.3 billion in federal homeland security grants since 2002 has reached Cincinnati and other U.S. communities, mostly because government bureaucracies haven't mobilized to move the money fast to where it's needed most.

Where's the sense of urgency, if President Bush is correct that this nation remains, along with Israel, the chief target of international terrorists and if we are fighting a global "war"? State and federal officials need to streamline the flow of dollars, and speed up restructuring U.S. homeland security.

The Homeland Security Department's inspector general estimates that only about 10 percent of the money for some grants from fiscal year 2003 (ending in September) has made it to local destinations. An $8 million grant to Greater Cincinnati has yet to be spent because of hang-ups in planning and paperwork. The grant is to pay for such gear as toxic gas detectors and protective clothing. Cincinnati and Ohio have fared better than most. Ohio has been awarded about $254 million, more than all but six other states.

Part of the problem can be traced to merging 23 federal agencies into the massive new Homeland Security Department. This is also the "first time" for everyone, from local planners applying for grants up the line to state and federal bureaucracies. Washington can't throw money at cities without reasonable checks and balances. U.S. troops have disrupted terrorists' havens, kept them occupied in the Mideast and bought us time at home. U.S. domestic security forces also have thwarted terrorist attacks at home since 9-11, but we can't count on the lull lasting indefinitely.

Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who helped write the legislation to funnel Homeland Security grants through state governments, agrees the money flow could have been speeded up and needs to be. But another set of hang-ups would have developed, had grants been channeled directly to fire departments, police and other first responders. He said one reason Cincinnati merits sizeable grants is the challenge of protecting a metro area spread among three states.

Portman also said Congress needs to exercise more oversight. The 9-11 commission faulted the FBI and CIA for being too "stovepiped" - isolated from each other, not sharing intelligence and unable to see the bigger picture. But Portman says, "In Congress we also are organized totally in 'stovepipes.' Nine committees oversee the 23 agencies in the Homeland Security Department."

Bush has said that before 9-11 we were not on a war footing. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice testified last week: "The real lesson of Sept. 11 is that the country was not properly structured to deal with the threat that had been gathering for a long time."

This open-border, democratic nation has ramped up its counterterrorist defenses, but the homeland mobilization still isn't setting any records for speed.

Speed up homeland defenses
School leaders must save this marriage
Suspension alone won't help some kids
Letters to the editor

'Takings' can be an appropriate way to stop decline
Eminent domain a tool of last resort
Changing standards shape field of eminent domain
'Holdouts' holding neighbors hostage
Why isn't my business good for Norwood?
George Clooney may be cute, but he and dad are out of touch
Hot Corner: Nipping at the heels of the newsmakers
Let's Talk: Letters on the 9-11 commission