Ridge cites security progress, urges states to share burden

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on Monday said the nation is making progress in its effort to bolster security but called on states to help shoulder the cost burden.

In remarks to the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), Ridge cited efforts to improve security. The Transportation Security Administration, for example, successfully met deadlines to implement passenger- and luggage-screening rules at most major U.S. airports.

The Bush administration also continues to restructure border enforcement and immigration services, Ridge said. The United States is working with Canada and Mexico on reaching more "21st-century smart-border agreements," he said.

Ridge also praised the development of a national network of sensors to detect biological threats and a new Customs Service initiative to screen containers before they leave foreign ports bound for the United States. "The list goes on and on," he added.

"We think there is a better way to integrate people, technology and funding," he said. "Our goal is to merge these agencies to integrate their capabilities."

But the department still faces challenges as it integrates federal emergency-response entities into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which will become "the nation's incident manager" at Homeland Security, Ridge said.

The Energy Department's nuclear-incident response team, for example, will move into FEMA, as will the domestic-response teams and preparedness offices at the Justice Department, Ridge added. The new system will create one direct line of authority from the president to the local level, with one point of contact.

Ridge said that while his department will do what it can to aid states and localities, the cost of security is a shared burden. "I do think on some of these [issues] there are public-safety responsibilities to share costs," he said.

However, Ridge pledged to review some federal requirements mandating that states provide matching grants for safety equipment and other needs. Some officials expressed concern that those mandates are preventing state lawmakers from appropriating money for emergency-response needs due to dramatic budget deficits.

Ridge suggested the creation of a "one-stop shop" at his department for federal security and to ease the process for state and local responders to seek assistance. "One of these days, I hope it's paperless," he said of the application process. "That'd be nice."

March 1 marks the deadline for all of Homeland Security's member agencies to officially join the department. Ridge will partake in several ceremonies this week to celebrate the transfers.

He plans to join the Coast Guard for its 'Change of Watch' ceremony, as well as Treasury Secretary John Snow and Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson in similar ceremonies to mark the transfers of Customs, the Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.