- The Washington Times - Friday, November 29, 2002

AUSTIN, Texas As President Bush gears up for assembling the Department of Homeland Security, his home state of Texas has been slower to embrace the cause. Local and state agencies have yet to fully coordinate efforts, funding is limited and residents lack a sense of urgency.
While some federal dollars have been allocated here, leaders hope the Texas Legislature will pass initiatives to help the state prevent terrorism and respond more efficiently to potential attacks.
That's a "priority," said Lt. Gov.-elect David Dewhurst, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in October 2001 to head the Governor's Task Force on Homeland Security. Mr. Dewhurst also helped craft a plan to secure Texas' share estimated at as much as a combined $300 million of 2003 national homeland security funding. "There's a need to continue to look at the protection of critical infrastructure," he said.
Texas, with a population of 21 million, possesses strategic targets, most notably the Houston ship channel, site of numerous refineries and petrochemical plants. The state also has a nuclear weapons assembly facility in the Panhandle, the nation's fourth-busiest airport in Dallas and 1,200 miles of border with Mexico. Texas is also closely identified with the president, who has built his business and political career here and has a ranch in Crawford.
Sympathizers of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups have a presence in the region, said Steve Emerson, the author of "American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us."
"You have militant representation in Texas, in Dallas, in Houston. The Hamas lobby is trying to acquire political power," he said.
Still, the state has been slow to react to the potential threat.
Austin firefighter Randy Gool said he hasn't received any homeland security training since the September 11 attacks, except a four-hour course on how to self-inject a counteracting medication in case of a chemical attack. Homeland security was a "hot" topic for a couple of months after the attacks, but not since then, he said.
"There has been a bunch of talk within government organizations, but it hasn't made it out to the front lines," said Mr. Gool, 44, adding that his comments don't reflect his department's official position.
Although the Austin Police Department created a volunteer civilian battalion late last year, the head of the infant homeland-defense division wants more for the state capital. Assistant Chief Jim Chapman said additional vehicles, such as helicopters, are needed to move officers around the city more quickly. The department has been promised $40,000 in federal money, which he called "very, very little," and the governor's task force hasn't provided any financial support, he said.
Extensive security measures aren't present at the University of Texas, where 83,000 attended a recent home football game in Austin. Airplanes are allowed to fly over the stadium during games, and season ticket-holder Vince Briseno said event staff barely checked his belt pack. "Everything else is pretty laid back."
Texas faces a projected state budget shortfall of between $5 billion and $15 billion. The state's biennial legislature hasn't met since September 11, 2001.
Of the 44 anti-terrorism recommendations the governor's homeland task force proposed, including a statewide warning system and water-contamination plan, about one-third still need federal or state authority.
Texas isn't alone. The entire country remains "dangerously unprepared" to stop a terrorist attack within its own borders, said a report released in October by the Council on Foreign Relations.
The newly created federal Department of Homeland Security, the largest government reorganization since World War II, has been hailed as a major political victory for Mr. Bush. But the president hasn't directed any extra funds or efforts to Texas, said state Sen. Ken Armbrister. "That's not George's style," said Mr. Armbrister.
Texas budgeted about $203 million in federal funds for homeland security for fiscal year 2002, which ended in September. State agencies, such as the Texas Department of Health, received about $119 million, or 59 percent, while cities, seaports, airports and a border-safety program run by the Federal Highway Administration got the remainder.
Mr. Dewhurst said he has submitted a plan to Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, asking for as much $200 million for local first responders for next year. Texas also should get an additional $100 million mostly for state agencies like the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard.
The state's most vulnerable target is the Houston ship channel. About 50 miles long, it has more than 300 facilities lining its banks. It receives the most foreign cargo of any U.S. port.
Security throughout the ports is stricter than it ever has been, as federal agencies increasingly are cooperating and sharing information with one another. The Coast Guard has toughened restrictions for incoming and outgoing vessels, and the Customs Service has beefed up cargo inspections for hazardous materials and weapons of mass destruction.
Security is also a concern for those who live in Crawford near Mr. Bush's 1,600-acre ranch.
At the Coffee Station restaurant in Crawford, waitress Kameron Bonner, 17, says she is weary of the commotion surrounding Mr. Bush's regular visits, which draw the press, tourists and protesters.
"It's kind of sad because you live in Crawford that you have more of an opportunity for somebody to do something [threatening] here," said the high school senior. "If [terrorists] wanted to get the president they could do something to Crawford to get his attention."


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