Panel, new study cite homeland security shortfalls

Lawmakers and representatives from nongovernmental organizations said Wednesday the federal government, and the Homeland Security Department specifically, are not doing enough to address homeland security issues and problems.

On Capitol Hill, the Democratic Task Force on Homeland Security released a new report in which 69 percent of respondents to a survey said the federal government should be doing more to meet the demands of homeland security. Sixty-three percent of respondents said the government does not give them specific information to protect their communities and 65 percent said they have never been contacted by DHS. Only 30 percent said communication with the federal government is adequate. And 87 percent said they do not have adequate funding to meet their homeland security needs.

The task force's report was based on 304 responses from local officials and first responders in 22 states and Puerto Rico. "There is a huge, unsettling disconnect between the federal government and the men and women who are on our front lines of homeland security," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who chairs the task force.

Across town, the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, held a conference that included a panel on homeland security. Speakers on the panel said DHS should develop a new national strategic plan for homeland security that better addresses the needs and concerns of state and local public safety authorities.

However, a DHS spokesman said the department already has a comprehensive plan to guide its activities, which is called the National Strategy for Homeland Security and was created in July 2002. He added that the department has developed more components of the plan in recent months to address concerns about critical infrastructure and cybersecurity.

Respondents to the task force's report said the top homeland security need in their communities is funding for communications technology. The next three highest-ranked needs are more police, more firefighters and security of the water supply.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said the findings in the new report mirror the results of a survey done by the Conference of Mayors in August. That survey found that 90 percent of cities have not received any of the $1.5 billion in funding approved this year to help first responders prepare for a terrorist attack, and more than half of local governments had not been consulted by state officials over how U.S. counterterrorism funding would be spent.

"America's mayors have asked for timely, direct and adequate funding, but the funding we have been receiving has not been timely, not been adequate, and is far from direct," O'Malley said.

However, since March 1, DHS has released more than $4.4 billion in grants to state and local governments and private sector organizations to enhance terrorism preparedness. In response to complaints from state and local officials, DHS announced in May it would allocate $700 million to help protect urban areas and critical infrastructure. At the time, DHS said most of that money would be provided to states in the form of grants to boost security in 30 metropolitan areas. In June, the department awarded nearly $400 million in grants to 10 states to help improve the emergency response capabilities of firefighters, police, emergency medical personnel and state and local governments.

During the panel on homeland security, speakers said DHS has too many fragmented efforts and initiatives, and needs to do more to help state and local authorities meet their homeland security needs.

Margaret Hamburg, vice president of the Nuclear Threat Initiative's biological programs, said a new homeland security plan should recognize the country's most likely vulnerabilities; establish short and long-term goals; delineate roles for public and private organizations; and provide useful metrics for measuring progress and success.

She said DHS should help state and local governments establish emergency communications systems; develop strong partnerships between public agencies and private sector organizations; plan on a regional level; practice training and preparedness; and develop strategies at hospitals for surge capacity.

Other speakers on the panel added that the federal government overall should distribute more funding to state and local authorities; provide more bandwidth so authorities can develop interoperable communications systems; and deploy more effective domestic intelligence capabilities.

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