It's About Time: Homeland Security Smartens up on Funds

Jan. 6, 2006
DHS' move to an assessment and risk-based approach makes sense; it should have happened earlier

Jan. 5--It's impossible for police officers to be everywhere at the same time, which is why police departments devote more resources to cracking down on speeders in a school zone than on jaywalkers in a quiet cul-de-sac.

Traditionally, that's not the way Homeland Security has doled out anti-terror dollars, which is why Puerto Rico in 2002 received more in disaster preparedness grants than 23 states, and why Washington, D.C., used preparedness dollars to buy leather jackets, and why a rural county in Washington state spent $63,000 on hazardous materials equipment and then stored it because the county didn't have a hazardous materials team.

This kind of political pork -- and national security folly -- has prompted Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff to promise that the department will begin reviewing grant requests based on the risk and consequences of terrorist attacks on certain cities and targets.

This is such a no-brainer decision that it is astonishing Homeland Security officials took so long to move away from the ineffective grant-sharing formulas and congressional politics that have distorted the distribution of homeland security funds since the Sept. 11 attacks.

While essential, this change alone will not make America safer. For example, Congress hasn't done enough to secure chemical plants, inspect air cargo or protect the nation's ports. Homeland Security also hasn't completed a comprehensive database of critical infrastructure in the United States, including an evaluation of rail and transit systems.

Border insecurity remains a threat, and, as FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina shows, a coordinated emergency response to a terrorist attack will be, at best, problematic.

Homeland Security efforts have to be allocated based on reasonable assessments of risk. Taxpayer dollars must be spent on what's most likely to deter terrorism, not just on what provides bureaucrats and politicians with the illusion of making the nation safer.

It's wise to look for terrorists in unlikely places, but not at the expense of making the most likely targets less secure.