Daily Breeze

September 12, 2003

RIDGE DEFENDS HOMELAND SECURITY SPENDING LEVEL

By TOBY ECKERT
Copley News Service

      WASHINGTON -- Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on Friday hit back at critics who charge the Bush administration is not spending enough to bolster regional counter-terrorism efforts, saying some communities ""haven't taken advantage of the dollars Congress appropriated.''

      In a wide-ranging discussion with reporters, Ridge said he considered future terrorist attacks in the United States ""an inevitability.''

      Ridge also said he did not consider California's decision to start granting drivers licenses to illegal immigrants a setback in the effort to create more uniform licensing procedures nationwide to make them less vulnerable to fraud.

      Some of the administration's allies in Congress disagree, and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, may support a reduction in federal highway funding for California and other states that pass such laws, a spokesman for Hunter said.

      Many governors, mayors and members of Congress routinely complain that the administration has not done enough to bolster state and local security efforts since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

      ""I don't think they understand,'' Ridge said when asked about the criticism. ""We have right now $4 billion out on the street. The federal government has done everything it needs to do to say to the states and locals... "It's out there.' We are just beginning to get in the applications so that we can spend those dollars.''

      About $164 million has been made available to California this fiscal year through the federal government's main grant programs for emergency response agencies. Another $78.3 million has been allocated directly to major cities, including $31.4 million for Los Angeles and $11.4 million for San Diego.

      George Vinson, who heads California's Office of Homeland Security, said the state has been spending its 20 percent share of the main funding ""pretty rapidly.''

      But he estimated that less than half of the local share has been distributed to cities and counties because they haven't completed plans for spending it.

      ""The secretary's absolutely right,'' Vinson said. ""But that doesn't mean we don't need more money.''

      The state estimates it has spent $700 million on security since the Sept. 11 attacks, but has received a total of $500 million in federal aid in the past two years.

      San Diego's homeland security director could not be reached for comment.

          Los Angeles has spent more than $138 million and has gotten about $44 million in federal funding, said Julie Wong, spokeswoman for Mayor James Hahn.

      ""I know our grants office is working overtime to make sure they're applying for everything we're eligible for,'' she said. ""We'd like to see more funding go directly to large cities that are considered higher on the potential list of targets.''

           Officials from California and other major states that are considered likely targets of terrorism have complained that the formula for distributing homeland security funds is unfair. Highly populated states end up getting far less per person than rural states like Wyoming.

      ""The only way to organize the funding formula is around the threat and vulnerability assessment,'' said Rep. Jane Harman of El Segundo, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. ""We're missing the central organizing mechanism for spending, which is one national, integrated strategy for homeland security which ranks our vulnerabilities and then puts our resources to work against them.''

      Days after his undersecretary for border security said entry policies at U.S. borders would be reviewed because of a new California law that will allow illegal aliens to obtain drivers licenses, Ridge played down any broader security concerns about the law.

      ""I don't view it as a setback,'' he said. ""California has a history of moving out independently on a lot of issues.... We'll just have to try to work around it and work through it.''

      Critics say the action will make it easier for terrorists to establish themselves in the country.

      Rep. Hunter is ""going to look at different proposals'' for reducing transportation funding for states that pass such laws, ""if that would be an avenue to get the state to somehow overturn this,'' said his spokesman, Mike Harrison.

      ""He thinks national security outweighs transportation funding,'' Harrison said.

      Hunter may introduce his own legislation or back a bill by Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., that would reduce a state's highway funding by 25 percent over five years if it issues licenses to illegal immigrants.

      Two years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Ridge said a combination of better security, international cooperation and ""maybe a little divine intervention, a little luck'' had averted more major attacks in the United States.

      But, he added: ""I think they've got Plan B, C, D and M. I just do think it is a matter of inevitability. ""The Department of Homeland Security operates under the notion that there will be another attack.''