- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2003

First responders will be unprepared to handle terrorist attacks unless the traditional system of distributing federal funding on congressional whims is replaced by threat-based assessments, said Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican and chairman of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

Intelligence gathering is the key to determining which cities are the most vulnerable and deserving of government funds, not political clout of politicians or population counts of various cities, said Mr. Cox, who is developing legislation to revamp allocation of security funds.

“If that is not working right, then all of the rest of this is going to be nothing more than a highway program — it will be grant money sent out on a political basis to anyone that asks for it, anyone with a product to market,” Mr. Cox said.

Democrats have fanned the debate over first-responder funding by criticizing the administration and congressional Republicans for not allocating more money, faster and for more programs.

A report released earlier this month by the Council on Foreign Relations’ task force on emergency responders said the government was short-changing local and state emergency personnel by more than $98 billion.

Republicans say the debate must be changed from “how much” money will be spent to “how” the money should be spent to protect those who are at the greatest risk of attack.

“Our terrorist enemies do not have infinite capabilities, they do not threaten us at all times from all sides — rather they have very finite capabilities,” Mr. Cox said.

This week, the House passed $5.6 billion for Project Bioshield to research and develop vaccines and countermeasures to chemical and biological terrorist attacks.

“By learning as much as we can about their capabilities and intentions, we can focus on the right biological threats and develop antidotes and vaccines,” Mr. Cox said.

The select committee yesterday began hearings on Mr. Cox’s proposal as the House began moving $4.4 billion in new grants for first responders. The legislation for “faster and smarter funding” could be introduced as early as next week and a similar measure is moving in the Senate.

Funding would be based on threat-based intelligence and the money sent to areas most threatened. Communities that demonstrate an ability to help themselves and work across jurisdictional lines would be given priority for additional funding.

“The most important point is that these funds can no longer be distributed based on political formulas. Nearly two years after the attacks of September 11, grants are still being distributed to states using formulas that take no account of whether the recipient is — based on our best intelligence — at risk,” Mr. Cox said.

“Every state in the union faces some risk and plenty of vulnerabilities,” he said. “But the great disparity in the distribution of funds must be fixed on an objective basis so that states are better supported to face these risks.”

States and municipalities also complain they are not getting enough funding or that the money they have been promised is not coming fast enough. Mr. Cox said that bottleneck must be removed.

“Billions of dollars are stuck in the pipeline, and that is unacceptable. If Congress has already appropriated the money, then it should be put to its intended use. We have an idea of where it is, but the simple fact is it is all too easy for the bureaucracy to swallow it up in paperwork for months at a time,” Mr. Cox said.

Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, $21 billion in grants have been issued to first responders and overall record amounts have been awarded, Mr. Cox said.

“We have to remember how quickly we are moving, from a standing start to full speed. Things are changing with blinding speed,” Mr. Cox said.

Asked if the Homeland Security Department is keeping pace with increasing demands, Mr. Cox said, “We have been expecting a lot very fast. It is a dizzying pace, but we have no choice. We didn’t pick this fight, but we’ve got to be ready for it.”

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