- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

President Bush yesterday announced that he will seek to double the budget for homeland security to nearly $38 billion, with $3.5 billion earmarked to go to "first responders" state and local police, firefighters and emergency medical teams.
"The first minutes or hours after an attack are the most hopeful minutes for saving lives," Mr. Bush told about 300 mayors gathered at the White House. "We've got to remember the role of the first responders. It became vivid, obviously, on September 11."
The president said he was moved by stories about how "some going into the danger wrote their Social Security numbers on their arms. It reminds all of us about how dangerous the job is, and about how some are willing to sacrifice for others," he said.
Under Mr. Bush's proposal, about $2 billion of the $3.5 billion would be distributed among 36,000 jurisdictions nationwide. The money would enable first responder agencies to buy protective equipment, chemical and biological detection systems, and "interoperable communications gear," the White House said.
An additional $1 billion would be used to train firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians to respond and operate in a case of chemical or biological attack. In addition, nearly $250 million would be set aside to support coordinated exercise programs "to improve response capabilities, practice mutual aid, and assess operational improvements and deficiencies."
Although the large expenditures will contribute to a 2003 fiscal budget deficit expected to reach more than $100 billion, Mr. Bush said, "We have no choice. We find ourselves in a moment of history where we, as leaders, have to respond."
"It's absolutely necessary that we spend the money, and that we spend it correctly. … Sometimes you get to pick your moments and sometimes you don't," he said.
The $3.5 billion for first responders would be a 10-fold increase above the 2002 allotment, and the $37.7 billion total for homeland defense is nearly double the $19.5 billion in this year's budget.
The money will be distributed to states through a formula based on population, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said. Localities will have wide latitude on how the money is spent.
The funding increase is crucial because states and localities are not prepared for terrorist attacks, the White House said.
"Even the best-prepared states and localities lack adequate resources to respond to the full range of terrorist threats this country faces. Many areas have little or no capability to respond to terrorist attacks using weapons of mass destruction," the White House said in a fact sheet on the new proposal.
The homeland security budget is part of the overall budget request Mr. Bush is due to submit to Congress on Feb. 4 for fiscal year 2003, which starts Oct 1.
Mr. Bush said the increased expenditures likely would recur throughout his term.
"It's the beginning of a homeland defense initiative which is going to last throughout my administration. … What the American people expect is a determined, relentless effort. That's exactly how we're going to behave," he said.
The announcement comes as good news for mayors, who on Wednesday released a new tally of what cities are spending to protect themselves against future attacks. Based on a sample of 192 localities, the group of mayors estimated the nationwide cost of additional terrorism-related security in cities to hit $2.6 billion by the end of 2002.
While the specifics of the $37.7 billion have not yet been made public, White House officials say the money will go toward securing U.S. borders, combatting bioterrorism and sharing intelligence among government agencies and federal and local authorities.
The president yesterday designated the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate terror response with local officials, and urged mayors to set aside partisan politics in the nationwide effort to secure the safety of Americans.
New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, the president of the conference gathered in Washington, applauded the move as "a giant leap in the right direction."
"Making sure that the first responders are ready to respond is our first objective," Mr. Morial said.
Mr. Bush's announcement yesterday follows his proposal Wednesday to boost military spending by 15 percent, the highest spending increase since the Reagan administration.
"This is a two-front war," the president said yesterday. "Overseas, we're fighting, and at home, we're fighting."
Mr. Bush's speech also follows one delivered to the mayors Wednesday by Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge. Mr. Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania, said police, firefighters and emergency crews need greater resources because "for them, the potential of a new challenge, a new battle is with them every single day."
"We want to empower cities and states to build upon their first-response capability, and then we want to help you sustain it in the future," Mr. Ridge said.
Mr. Ridge promised more money for research and for enhancing hospitals' abilities to respond to a bioterror emergency.
Other initiatives under review at the homeland security office include an effort to consolidate government agencies that oversee border security and a move to create a multistage alert system that would supplant the general alerts Mr. Ridge has previously issued.
Mr. Bush is scheduled to announce today, during a trip to Maine, his proposal for new efforts to improve border security. Provisions to combat bioterrorism and improve intelligence will be laid out later, said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House Office of Homeland Security.


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