- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The protection of the republic is a primary duty of its elected representatives. The House will soon take up one critical aspect of that duty, appropriating funds for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the next fiscal year. The funding fulfills some of those needs, but gaps and concerns remain.

Yesterday, the DHS Appropriations bill was filed, and it will soon be on the House floor. The bill largely follows the administration’s lead, but there are a few significant differences. The administration requested $31.4 billion for the department, and funding increases for several areas, including the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the urban area security initiative, which grants funds to major metropolitan areas likely to be targeted by terrorists. Grants to first responders were to be cut by $800 million. Those decisions are a part of what DHS Secretary Tom Ridge termed a “significant shift” in allocations of DHS grants. Instead of using formulas based simply on population, the administration wants to grant funds based on the threat of terrorism.

The House appropriations bill took the middle ground on the targeting of grants, providing $1.25 billion in basic grants to all states and localities, but then providing $1 billion more in grants to high-threat urban areas. Overall, the bill allocates more money ($33.1 billion) to DHS, and provides substantial funds to border and port security. The House allocates slightly more than the $5.4 billion for TSA the administration asked for.

Will that spending be enough? Democrats do not think so. During the markup, Rep. David Obey, the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, offered a subsequently defeated amendment which would have established a $3 billion contingency reserve fund for everything from increased numbers of air marshals to additional security at borders and ports. Allocations for container and cargo security were seen as the minimum needed for the glaring vulnerabilities still in those areas.

Some of the Democrats’ concerns are merited — although the problems are at least as much about local attitudes and policies as they are about money. Our sense from speaking to people in the field is that first responders still have little coherence in response capability and that many of the systemic failures of September 11, 2001 have not been corrected. Some of that is a failure of planning — some states and regions are not sure what to do with the funds. In other places it shows the shortfalls of the original funding formula.

As a consequence, we wait with dread for what disasters may befall first responders — and others — during the next response to a terrorist attack. The DHS appropriations bill has many meritorious points, but there is still much to do.

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