Springfield State Journal Register

June 30, 2006

Task force sees few improvements in domestic security

 

WASHINGTON - A task force of people with years of experience in homeland and national security issued a report Thursday that argued that little has been done since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to make the nation safer.

Nearly five years after the deadly attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the expenditure of tens of billions of dollars, Hurricane Katrina revealed that “we cannot count on the national government to perform one of its most basic missions: preventing, mitigating and responding to disaster,” the report said.

Because the Bush administration has concentrated most of its efforts and spending since Sept. 11 on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, “in some ways, America has become the forgotten homeland,” the task force said.

The Century Foundation task force report presents a wide array of recommendations to improve domestic security against terrorism, including restoring the Federal Emergency Management Agency as an independent Cabinet-level agency, ending its current status as part of the massive Department of Homeland Security.

The report said the focus of domestic security should be on major cities, turning the metropolitan government, police and emergency service personnel into “first preventers” instead of first responders. It also called for greater cooperation by the private sector to enhance security of chemical facilities, nuclear power plants and digital business records.

The 313-page report, titled “The Forgotten Homeland,” also echoed numerous other analyses in urging greater emphasis on improving security of public transit systems and seaports, which it said were neglected in the rush to secure the aviation system.

And it proposed a national dialogue to debate the trade-offs between heightened homeland security and civil rights.

The task force calculated that to elevate both protection against and the ability to respond to an attack would cost $23 billion a year more than the administration’s $50 billion request for homeland security. It proposes shifting money from the Pentagon’s budget for major weapon systems to provide the extra funds. The privately funded foundation has published a number of reports on homeland security.

Its latest report was co-authored by Rand Beers and Richard Clarke, both of whom had decades of experience in national security and counterterrorism in both Democratic and Republican administrations.

The task force included more than a dozen individuals who have worked on similar issues for FEMA, the Pentagon, think tanks, universities and industry. Opening a briefing on the report, Clarke noted that after 9/11, the Bush White House compiled a long list of the nation’s vulnerabilities. “The sad thing is, almost five years later, the list is still much the same,” he said.

“We are today no more secure than we were five years ago,” Clarke said. Beers said the report’s title, “Forgotten Homeland,” was chosen because domestic security “very quickly went to the back burner” after 9/11.

Task force members argued strongly that an important step to improve domestic emergency response would be to remove FEMA from DHS and make it an independent agency, as it was before 9/11.

James Lee Witt, who led FEMA during President Bill Clinton’s administration, has supported legislation that would make that change. In a letter to Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., Witt said returning FEMA to independent status “will begin to rebuild our nation’s emergency management infrastructure and ensure effective response” to the next disaster.