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In my local newspaper, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, there is part one of a special report entitled "Missing the Target: A flawed plan to protect the homeland" by Michele R. Marcucci, Sean Holstege, Ian Hoffman and Troy Anderson. As President Bush tries to tell us that we are safer now than we have ever been, this is a report we should be directing a lot of attention to.

I've looked the article up online , and was disappointed to find that the web version of the article has a different title that glosses over the point of the article: "Anti-terror funds use is called into question: Emergency agencies are better equipped because Congress." While not as powerful as the print title, the online title is still ok to me because it gives credit for the positives to Congress and not the President.

The gist of the article is that Congress gave funds to local authorities to shore up their homeland security concerns. Congress felt we couldn't wait for a national plan and that locals should better know what the targets are in their areas and how to protect them from terrorist attacks. However, much of the funding has been misused, been spent on non-terrorist related projects, or is finding its way to local authorities far too slowly.

Further discussion of the specifics of what the article says in the extended text...

Before discussing some of the items in the text, I want to tell you about a graphic in the print edition that is not online. The graphic is a map of California which highlights 4 major metropolitan counties (LA, Orange, Alameda, and San Francisco) and contrasts them with 2 rural counties in terms of population, per capita federal security funds, and number of terrorist targets. Here is the breakdown:

                       Los Angeles County:                     Orange County        
Pop:                      9.5 mil                                     2.8 mil
Per Capita funds:   $8.14                                       $4.21
Targets:                  180                                           52

                          San Francisco County               Alameda County
Pop:                      777,000                                  1.44 mil
Per Capita funds:  $45.74                                     $4.39
Targets:                   51                                         37

                        Sierra County                            Alpine County
Pop:                      3500                                        1200
Per Capita funds: $79.52                                     $218.20
Targets:                0                                              0

Clearly, funds have not been allocated wisely. The blame for this  lies in part with California state authorities, who were given the task of allocating the federal funds in state. The article also points out that the funds are taking way too long to get to the local authorities. For example, LA has received less than $7 million of the over $70 million it is supposed to get. It is not a stretch to think the same problems have happened across the country.

The poor allocation of funds is by no means the only problem, nor the most severe. The grant process itself is full of red tape, meaning local authorities spend money they don't have and hope for reimbursement. Another problem is a focus on gadgetry instead of training or additional personnel. An additional problem seems to be worrying too much about WMD instead of conventional weapons and bombs, and a focus on after-attack response, rather than prevention. And, as the title suggests, local officials have been using the funds on projects other than terrorism.

It seems to me that most of the problems stem from a lack of guidelines from the top down.

...there is no national plan with clear performance measures to guide local jurisdictions.
Left alone, local officials saw threats to the homeland all around - from al-Qaida, certainly, but also forest fires, drug dealers, political unrest and their own budget troubles.

This article spends a lot of time talking about what local authorities have done wrong. Would they be making so many mistakes if there were strict guidelines from the Department of Homeland Security? Would they be buying unnecessary equipment or incompatible systems, or duplicating efforts if there was some federal coordination? Would they be spending anti-terrorism funds on seismology and meteorology projects? WTF is the Department of Homeland Security for, if not to give guidelines to and coordinate efforts with and between local authorities? I used to wonder how Homeland Security is different from National Defense. I understand it now, but I also understand that Tom Ridge hasn't been doing his job.

Kerry has done a good job so far pointing out the chemical plants and nuclear facilities that are unprotected. This report demonstrates why. The homeland security plan is deeply flawed and disorganized.

Local officials have gotten a lot of things right, and California is more prepared than it was prior to getting federal funds. If you throw enough money at a problem, some of it is going to stick. But we could be so much more prepared than we are now if this had been done right to begin with.

Just one more mess for President Kerry to clean up.

Originally posted to mrboma on Mon Sep 06, 2004 at 03:27 PM PDT.

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