- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 (UPI) — The new Homeland Security Department already is billions of dollars in debt to the nation's cities, even before it opens its doors Friday, U.S. city mayors and Washington lobbying officials told United Press International.

Members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors are expected to meet Friday with President George W. Bush, and to ask him to help clear some $3.5 billion in special homeland security payments he promised them at their winter meeting last year.

Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle said he was there "and we all remember that." Nickels said Seattle alone has spent some $3.5 million in 2002 for increased police patrols, equipment, and intelligence operations, complicating the vast shortfalls in revenue the city faces.

Mayor Beverly O'Neill of Long Beach, Calif., one of the nation's biggest ports, said cities have spent $2.6 billion of their own tax revenues to handle homeland security matters.

O'Neill said that at Long Beach, federal authorities have begun a surveillance project of containers arriving from abroad and increased harbor patrols, but that it is a "pilot program" and "there is much to be done."

Meanwhile, a National League of Cities-proposed stimulus package to revive urban economies calls for Congress to come up with $75 billion in tax rebates and direct payments.

The league also called for the federal government to provide $50 billion to help with $67 billion in budget shortfalls that state and local governments face. This would include, the League statement said, $10 billion for unmet homeland security and infrastructure needs.

For the Homeland Security Department, relations with state and local governments is only one major hurdle facing the new agency.

An assessment released Thursday by the Brookings Institution of the progress in organizing the 170,000-person agency concluded that the vast organizing difficulties of merging elements of 22 government agencies "threatens to distract policy makers from other, more urgent, security efforts."

According to Brookings, in 2002 "America lost momentum on improving homeland security." The Brookings report set out the following "urgent" steps for the Bush administration and for Congress:

— Establish a domestic counter-terrorism agency to collect and analyze information on terrorist threats. At present it is still organized by several separate agencies, including the CIA, FBI and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

— Focus on border, transportation and infrastructure security. Except for airport security, steps to protect ports, border crossings, energy facilities and ground transportation systems has been haphazard, Brookings said.

— Provide additional billions of dollars for homeland security. Brookings estimated the new department should be given an additional $7 billion to $10 billion for fiscal 2003.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who on Thursday was confirmed as the first secretary of Homeland Defense by the Senate, is expected to have a news conference Friday

On Monday, the agency is to move into a new headquarters at a World War II Naval facility in Washington and to slowly will begin to assemble an executive team.

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