Homeland security remains a major challenge at the state and local level, reports Governing Magazine. Radios of first responders in neighboring communities often do not operate on compatible frequencies. Mayors complain that federal cash promised for new radios has not arrived. “We would never think of sending the men and women of our armed forces into Afghanistan or Iraq with radios that can’t talk to each other,” says Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley. He says the Bush administration’s plan to cut grants to state and local governments by $805 million in fiscal 2005 is evidence the problem is getting worse.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors reported that 90 percent of 215 major cities said they had not received any funding from the biggest program for first responders. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge suggested that the reason $9 billion in grants remained unspent was that states had not distributed it to local governments. “Homeland security money went to the states by Federal Express, but came to the cities by Pony Express,” cracked James A. Garner, mayor of Hempstead, New York, and president of the mayors’ group.
It is impossible to link state and local efforts to the federal strategy because, so far, there isn’t a coherent federal strategy. Without an overall plan, there is no way to channel scarce money to the local areas with the highest risk. As a result, Congress has turned homeland security grants into pork-barrel politics. The roles of the key players — state, local and regional governments — remain undefined.