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Part of the problem that I have with our government (both parties) is that even in the current times of crisis, we can throw away hundreds of millions of dollars on things like homeland security and have no idea if the extra money is accomplishing its goal. Today I'm not speaking of secrecy, but lack of planning and coordination.
This week, Congress' non-partisan General Accounting Office (GAO) released two items about security preparedness in our nation's capitol:
Homeland Security: Management of the First Responder Grants in the National Capital Region Reflects the Need for Coordinated Planning and Performance Goals. GAO-04-433, May 28.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d04433high.pdf
Homeland Security: Coordinated Planning and Standards Needed to Better Manage First Responder Grants in the National Capital Region, by William O. Jenkins, Jr., director, homeland security and justice, before the House Committee on Government Reform. GAO-04-904T, June 24.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d04904thigh.pdf
The GAO report concluded in part:
â€œIn fiscal years 2002 and 2003, grant programs administered by the Departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Justice awarded about $340 million to eight NCR jurisdictions to enhance emergency preparedness. Of this total, the Office for National Capital Region Coordination (ONCRC) targeted all of the $60.5 million Urban Area Security Initiative funds for projects designed to benefit NCR as a whole. However, there was no coordinated regionwide plan for spending the remaining funds (about $279.5 million). Local jurisdictions determined the spending priorities for these funds and reported using them for emergency communications and personal protective equipment and other purchases.
â€œNCR faces several challenges in organizing and implementing efficient and effective regional preparedness programs, including the lack of a coordinated strategic plan for enhancing NCR preparedness, performance standards, and a reliable, central source of data on funds available and the purposes for which they were spent.
â€œWithout these basic elements, it is difficult to assess first responder capacities, identify first responder funding priorities for NCR, and evaluate the effectiveness of the use of federal funds in enhancing first responder capacities and preparedness in a way that maximizes their effectiveness in improving homeland security.â€?
So, in the past two years, we have spent $340 million on terrorism preparedness in the capital region, but can't tell whether we've bought ourselves a better response. I'm not complaining about the money. I HOPE that people of all political stripes can see that Washington DC is at the top of most terrorist's target list. They'll strike elsewhere if pickings are easier, but the symbolism of striking the heart of our government will be too tempting for them not to attempt an attack.
I know some people dismiss or minimize the need for first responders -- â€œyou'd rather clean up after the terrorists than fight them on their home ground!â€? However, even Dr Rice says â€œWe have to be right every single time, the terrorists only have to be right ONCE.â€? So even the Administration thinks another attack on American soil is likely. Given that, our first responders are what makes the difference between an effective response to an assault that minimizes the damage done, and a chaotic response that might make matters worse â€“ especially if some group does use radiologic, chemical or biological weapons. An improper response could spread contamination over a wider area. So it makes sense ESPECIALLY in our national capital, to have the various responder groups working as a team, pooling their resources and having effective communications. That they may not have this after two years, 340 million dollars, and an offensive war that increased terrorist recruitment is a scandal to both parties.