The Senate last week approved legislation that will strengthen our nation’s capacity to prevent and, if necessary, respond to acts of terrorism.
The legislation, which we authored, strikes the right balance between ratcheting up funding to New York, Washington, D.C., and other high-risk areas, and ensuring that we improve our capabilities in all states so there are no weak links in our homeland defenses.
Our legislation recognizes that, while we increase security where we believe the risk of terrorist attack is greatest, risk-assessment is an art, and not a science. It is an educated guess. We do not know with certainty where terrorists will attack. They are inherently unpredictable, aiming at vulnerable targets wherever they find them. They could choose to attack so-called “soft” targets, such as malls or schools in Middle America to spread terror into the heartland. They could attack our food supply, which comes from rural America. As the FBI director has said, our country is “awash in potential targets.”
As we have seen in London, Madrid, Russia, Indonesia, Iraq and Israel, terrorists have no qualms about exploiting any vulnerability anywhere, in metropolitan cities or small towns, to kill innocent men, women and children and sow fear and panic.
Our legislation, for the first time, creates a framework for distributing billions of dollars in state homeland security grants that the Department of Homeland Security allocates each year to assist first responders and state and local officials in helping prevent terrorism and prepare for an attack. It gives the DHS secretary unprecedented authority to target funds based on risk. This grant formula doubles the funding to high-risk states while ensuring all states receive a guaranteed minimum funding so they may attain a minimum level of preparedness. Under our legislation, California will receive a baseline funding 51/2 times greater than smaller states. New York and Texas will get a baseline amount more than 3 times greater.
In addition to the minimum funding, states are eligible to receive additional grant funds to address their unique risks, threats and vulnerabilities. The Congressional Research Service has determined that, altogether, the Collins-Lieberman proposal would allocate roughly 80 percent of the total funds to states based on risk factors.
Our formula recognizes that states’ efforts to address homeland security vulnerabilities and needs are most often long-term projects that will require many years to complete. For example, creating a communications network that all first responders can use is complicated, expensive and time-consuming. Multiyear planning is critical for states to develop a successful prevention and response strategy. A predictable level of state grant funding each year will allow states to plan and budget to meet their most difficult preparedness needs.
Finally, our legislation would subject homeland security grants to tough new accountability measures, such as an independent Government Accountability Office audit and a requirement that all purchases help achieve prevention and response capabilities. The amendment would bar wasteful spending on items such as leather jackets and air-conditioned garbage trucks as has occurred in the District of Columbia and New Jersey.
This legislation dramatically improves the homeland security state grant process by instituting a clear set of risk-based factors that do not exist now. This way, the entire nation will be better prepared to prevent, and if necessary, respond to the next terrorist attack. That is not pork barrel politics. That is a well-reasoned, intelligent strategy to protect all Americans against the terrorist threat.
Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, and Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, are members of the U.S. Senate.