- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2005

Recently, the International Association of Chiefs of Police published an important policy document which underscores the need to revise America’s homeland-security strategy.

As Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff completes his review of federal homeland-security organization and programs, he should carefully consider the IACP’s basic premise.

The IACP correctly notes that homeland security begins in hometown America. The next terrorist attack will not likely be stopped by the federal government. A local cop on the beat is far more likely to detect and foil terrorists before they strike.

I was a federal official for 32 years. For seven years, I served in senior executive-branch positions. I know how easy it is for federal agencies and White House staff to forget the need for national solutions to problems such as homeland security, not merely federal approaches to them. We must never forget that all terrorist attacks are local.

What is missing in Washington is a clear understanding of the role of state and local authorities in preventing future terrorist attacks. The IACP correctly points out that state and local input to major federal policy initiatives usually comes too late in the process, after federal interagency coordination has essentially been completed.

Homeland security must be a shared partnership. State and local officials and the private sector must be in on the take-off of major policy initiatives, not merely in on the landing. If this failure to cooperate on the front end is allowed to continue, our national homeland-security defenses will continue to have serious gaps that future terrorists can exploit to attack us again.

As Mr. Chertoff reorganizes his department for the future, he should plan on bringing new talent to Washington. He should hire experienced state and local officials who can bring a more national perspective to homeland-security plans and policy.

First, he should work with the White House personnel office to bring qualified state and local leaders into the department to fill many of the senior jobs that are today unfilled and those that will be created by the expected reorganization.

Second, he should work with the Office of Personnel Management to bring state and local talent to fill many of the mid-level jobs, which, in the final analysis, play the most important role in developing a new culture for the struggling Department of Homeland Security. This can easily be achieved under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA).

What I am talking about is tantamount to a revolution in Washington. It is a recognition that the federal government does not have all the answers and needs to establish a new partnership with state and local entities who are on the front lines of terrorism prevention.

During the past three years, I have traveled extensively throughout our great country. The resolve following Sept. 11, 2001 is slowly but surely giving way to complacency. The farther away you get from Washington and New York City, the more likely you will find an “it can’t happen here” mentality.

And that is our nation’s greatest vulnerability. Radical Islamist terrorists may not have attacked us in almost four years. That doesn’t mean they have given up. It may mean our global war on terrorism is making it difficult for them to mount a coordinated major attack. But we would be fools to think these enemies of freedom have given up. To the contrary, we must assume they are planning the next attack every day, and they are planning on it being more dramatic and devastating than the one on Sept. 11, 2001.

Only a dreamer can believe our federal intelligence agencies will always be good enough to foil terrorist plans. We must assume there could be sleepers already in place, just as we assume terrorists are probing our screens and defenses to find ways to surprise us again.

And when they do launch another operation against us, it will most likely be foiled by that local cop, not an agent in the Hoover FBI building.

There is much I like about Mr. Chertoff’s approach to homeland security. He is correct that future federal funding should be based on threat and risk. But those responsible for putting his words into policy need to reflect on where the threat and risk really is. To many on Capitol Hill and in the administration, it means the lion’s share of funding should go to a few of the nation’s largest cities. True, we must assume terrorists are attracted to where they can do the most harm. But we should never forget that on Sept. 11, Mohammad Atta boarded an airplane in a small city in a rural state.

The IACP’s report correctly calls for developing a baseline capability throughout the country. Future funding from the federal government needs to ensure no community is left without basic guidelines and standards for terrorism prevention.

We must remember our terrorist enemies are innovative and adaptive. If we concentrate all our efforts on a few population centers, they will just move down the road to hometown America and try to blend in until it is time to launch their operations.

I realize that some in DHS and other federal departments and agencies will discount the IACP policy statement as merely an attempt by another special-interest group to secure more federal funding. Perhaps it is just that.

But this is one special interest we should listen to.

Mike Walker was acting secretary of the Army and deputy director of FEMA in the Clinton administration.

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