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Proposed homeland security department: what it means to state and local governments. (Federal Focus).

In a June 6 televised address from the White House, President Bush told the nation that a sweeping reorganization of the federal government is needed to improve domestic security.

"Tonight, I ask the Congress to join me in creating a single permanent department with an overriding and urgent mission--securing the American homeland and protecting the American people," the president said. His proposal comes amidst increasing scrutiny by Congress and the media regarding the systemic failure of the federal government, principally intelligence and law enforcement agencies, to "connect the dots" prior to the September 11 attacks. For state and local government officials, the president's proposal finally addresses concerns about the federal government's traditionally chaotic counter-terrorism infrastructure.


The president's proposal addresses not just federal counter-terrorism functions, but also recognizes the need for a strong partnership among federal, state, and local governments in this effort. For years, state and local government officials have urged the federal government to consolidate its anti-terrorism activities under one roof. As long ago as August 1998--three years before 9/11--a task force of fire chiefs and other local emergency officials, convened by the federal government, reported that there were simply too many programs designed to help local agencies prepare for terrorism. The U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, chartered by the Secretary of Defense in July 1998 (and chaired by former Senators Warren Rud an and Gary Hart) to review domestic security arrangements, also recommended consolidation of responsible federal agencies and called for much closer coordination with state and local governments. But pre-September 11 attempts to establish a single clearinghouse instead created several competing "one-stop shops," the chief rivals being the Justice Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Proposal

According to the president, the new department will mobilize and focus the resources of the federal government, state and local governments, the private sector, and the American people to prevent future terrorist attacks. The proposed Department of Homeland Security would consolidate duties now spread across nine federal departments and include a central clearinghouse for analyzing intelligence information. In his June 6 remarks, the president noted that his proposal was the largest reorganization of the federal government since the 1947 National Security Act that created the Defense Department, the National Security Council, and the Central Intelligence Agency. With an estimated 169,000 employees, the new department would be second only to the Defense Department. The White House estimates the new department's budget at $37 billion, which the administration says would be funded with the savings achieved by eliminating redundancies among current agencies.

The administration's plan would merge agencies and offices into four primary areas: border and transportation security; emergency preparedness; countermeasures against chemical, biological and radiological and nuclear weapons; and information analysis and infrastructure protection. Exhibit 1 is an organization chart for the proposed department. The department would include the Coast Guard, the Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Border Patrol, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Secret Service, and the new Transportation Security Administration.

The Department of Homeland Security also would absorb selected functions of other cabinet agencies, including the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and nuclear Emergency Search Team, and the Department of Health and Human Service's National Pharmaceutical Stockpile. The FBI and the CIA would not be substantially affected, though the consolidation would create an intelligence and threat analysis division within the new department that would analyze material gleaned by multiple agencies.

Implications for State and Local Governments

Although state and local governments are generally satisfied with the president's proposal, they also have expressed concerns that long-established ties between corresponding state, local, and federal agencies could be strained as the merger buries the less-dramatic issues inside a huge counter-terrorism department.

The proposed department relies heavily on coordination among federal, state, and local governments. The new secretary of homeland security would have a special office devoted solely to state and local concerns. For state and local governments, this office would streamline intergovernmental activities related to domestic security. The new department also would include an intergovernmental affairs office that would coordinate federal homeland security programs with local officials. It would give state and local officials one primary contact instead of many, and there would be an additional primary contact just for training, equipment, planning, and other critical needs such as emergency response. This division of the new department also would manage federal grant programs for firefighters, police, and emergency medical personnel, and would set standards for state and local preparedness activities and equipment to ensure that funds are used appropriately.

The proposed department would coordinate several other elements of state and local governments' domestic preparedness and emergency response, including communication, nuclear incidents, incident management, critical infrastructure protection, and grants administration. Each of these elements is discussed below.

Communication. Under the president's proposal, the Department of Homeland Security would be responsible for all federal communications related to terrorist threats. The new department would coordinate the provision of specific threat information to local law enforcement and set the national threat level. The consolidation also would encompass intelligence gathering and dissemination operations that are housed within the CIA and the FBI into a new division--Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection. The division would be responsible for maintaining a central repository of critical information on potential terrorist threats that would be shared with state and local authorities. This function would be administered under the Homeland Security Advisory System that was established in March 2002.

Nuclear Incidents. As it stands now, federal, state, and local officials have competing views about evacuations and the distribution of key pharmaceuticals in the event of a nuclear attack. Under the new Department of Homeland Security, one federal agency would be responsible for the distribution of resources to citizens exposed to a nuclear incident, no matter where they live. The department also would be responsible for coordinating with local officials on immediate evacuations.

Incident Management. Working with federal, state, and local public safety organizations, the department would create a comprehensive national incident management system for response to terrorist incidents and natural disasters. Under the plan, the department would consolidate existing federal emergency response plans into one all-hazard plan, and would manage and coordinate federal entities supporting local response efforts.

Critical Infrastructure Protection. The Department of Homeland Security would assume the responsibility of coordinating a national effort to secure the nation's infrastructure. The department would join with state, local, and private agencies and give them one primary contact for coordinating protection activities.

Grants Administration. The Department of Homeland Security would administer all domestic disaster preparedness grant programs for first responders, which are currently managed by the Justice Department, Health and Human Services, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In addition, a comprehensive federal emergency response plan, developed by the proposed department, would encompass state and local government plans for domestic preparedness. FEMA and TSA already have worked with local governments on homeland security issues. The Bush administration has designated FEMA as the central place for distribution of the proposed first responder funds to state and local government, and TSA is coordinating transitional security coverage at the nation's airports using local law enforcement personnel.

In a speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge reiterated the Bush administration's position of funneling homeland security funding to local governments through the states. Ridge told the mayors that first responder grants, for example, would be sent to the states through the governors and that 75 percent would go to local governments. The other 25 percent would be distributed at the discretion of the governors.

Congressional Response

Almost immediately, Congress began preparations for consideration of the proposal (introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate as the Homeland Security Act of 2002). The House adopted a resolution (H. Res. 449) creating a nine-member Select Committee on Homeland Security to review the legislation, and the Senate Government Affairs Committee already has begun hearings. More than 80 different congressional committees have jurisdiction over some aspect of the planned overhaul.

What worries some lawmakers is not what's in the president's proposed department, but rather what ingredients appear to be missing or are murky. At a recent hearing on the proposal, Representative Curt Weldon (R-Pa), chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Procurement, said, "it's only 60 percent of what needs to be done." Members of Congress have expressed several concerns about the president's proposal.

* The nuts-and-bolts policies of a coordinated strategy for homeland security, if they exist, have not been explained in the context of the proposed department.

* The department would not be an originator of foreign or domestic intelligence, but rather a "consumer," a "clearinghouse," and an analytical hub. This does not satisfy those members of Congress who think the country's intelligence problems in the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency, and elsewhere demand more direction and supervision.

* Domestic law enforcement would remain a splintered responsibility. A Homeland Security Department would be an umbrella, but the Justice, Treasury, and Interior departments would retain their spheres of operation.

* The government's health care experts--the U.S. bio-terrorism protection force--would be split between Health and Human Services and the proposed Homeland Security Department. In this case, the proposal splinters, rather than centralizes, a key aspect of homeland defense.

* Nothing in the proposal submitted to Congress, other than the department's organizational chart, speaks to the need for improved communications and cohesiveness.

Regardless of these concerns, November elections will require members of Congress to face a public already alarmed by reports that the federal government failed to translate clues to the 9/11 attacks into effective, preventive action. Consequently, the proposed department has received strong, bipartisan support. Indeed, Congress has pledged to pass legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security before the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Building an effective department, however, will take years of work and will require substantial help from state and local government officials.

Knowing this, the president recently created a Homeland Security Council to advise him on, among other things, the concerns of state and local governments. Along with state and local law enforcement officials and the governor of Utah, the president also appointed District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams, a former member of the Government Finance Officers Association, to the council. GFOA will work with Mayor Williams, the council, Congress, and other state and local government organizations to ensure that the new department fulfills its mission and strengthens homeland security.

DANIEL C. DESIMONE is assistant director of GFOA's Federal Liaison Center in Washington, D.C.
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Author:Desimone, Daniel C.
Publication:Government Finance Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2002
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