Stateline Story

State Security Chiefs See No Holdup in Funding

  • February 20, 2004
  • By Eric Kelderman

State homeland security officials are firing back at federal and local government critics who charge that state governments are holding up homeland security dollars.

"The money is not stuck anywhere," said Clifford Ong, Indiana's director of Counter-terrorism and Security Council. "Every state has met every deadline given ... by the Department of Homeland Security."

Ong made his remarks alongside several other state homeland security directors at a Feb. 20 press conference in the Washington, D.C. offices of the National Governors Association.

They were responding directly to a January report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors that 76 percent of cities surveyed had not received any of the $1.5 billion to equip first responders and protect critical infrastructure such as power and water utilities. States are required to distribute 80 percent of their homeland security dollars to local governments.

First responders have always had a shortage of equipment and personnel, Ong said. "It's a perennial problem. Will Homeland Security money solve that? I would be very surprised."

Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge echoed the mayor's criticisms to the U.S. House Select Committee on Homeland Security. There is a funding "logjam" because of the variety of ways that states dole out dollars, Ridge told Representatives.

The dispute over how much money is going to city and county governments is like a "six-year-olds' soccer game," said Maj. Gen. Timothy J. Lowenberg, Washington's homeland security director. "Everyone's kicking each other in the shins trying to get the ball." But no one is paying attention to guarding the goal.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley recently criticized the federal government for passing money through the states, rather than giving it directly to local governments. "Why are we sending first-responder dollars to secondary-responding levels of government," O'Malley was quoted saying in the Global Security Newswire.

The whole issue of giving money directly to cities and counties is a 60-year old fight, not something that came up after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said George Foresman, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner's (D) homeland security adviser.

States are also waiting for money, Foresman said, because they have to apply to the federal government for reimbursement, just like cities and counties have to apply to states for money.

States would be able to distribute the money faster if they did not have to follow complex accounting and application procedures set up by the federal government, Ong said. "Al Qaeda does not consider where the best grant writers are."