Tom Ridge, secretary of homeland security, is due to appear today before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security. The Washington Post notes that Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) has accused the Bush administration of underfunding the department, “tinkering while the clock on homeland security is ticking.” The Post says in an editorial that no one can measure whether the administration’s proposed $40 billion in new resources will be money well spent.
The new department does not provide Congress with regularly updated risk assessment reports. The department has requested assessments of homeland security needs from all 50 states; only when those are evaluated and processed, officials say, will it be possible to produce a meaningful national strategy. Without a better analysis of likely threats and targets, says the Post, it’s impossible to say whether the amounts allocated are grossly inadequate or wastefully large.
In two areas of spending, the lack of clear goals should cause particular concern, editorializes the Post. One is “first responders”: the emergency workers, firefighters, and police. At least some of the $8 billion dispersed in the past year is still in limbo between the federal government, states, and localities. Every fire department would like more money and new equipment and would prefer not to pool its resources with neighboring departments; the danger of duplication and overspending is enormous. It isn’t clear whether Congress or the administration is prepared to make hard choices about who needs more money.
Another area that could use closer scrutiny: this year’s budget includes more funding for Project Bioshield, which is designed to develop and purchase vaccines and antidotes against known diseases that could be used in bioterrorism. What it does not do is provide funding for basic research to cope with the threat of viruses and microbes that can now be engineered in thousands of labs around the world.