Former Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) is in danger of becoming a Cassandra, blessed with the gift of prophecy but ignored until after disaster has struck. It was Rudman and former Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) who declared, at the beginning of 2001, that the nation was sure to be hit by a large-scale terrorist attack and needed better readiness. Then he and Hart issued a report last year on the nation's continued lack of overall preparedness. On Monday, Rudman returned to the topic, zeroing in on the low and uneven funding of local emergency forces, the first responders against terrorism.
The new report, co-authored by former White House terrorism and cyber-security chief Richard A. Clarke and sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, says the problem today is not that President Bush or Congress has been oblivious to the dangers of biological, chemical or radiological attack. Many things, from border patrols to airport security, have improved. However, the report concludes that current federal spending for local anti-terrorism efforts of $27 billion per year needs boosting by nearly $100 billion over five years and that homeland security spending is poorly managed.
A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security disputed the report, saying its cost estimates were "grossly inflated," the equivalent of calling for "gold-plated telephones" in emergency communications centers. Gold-plated? Cash-strapped states and cities are struggling to pay the bills: In a lengthy new study, James Jay Carafano, a scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation, says, "a serious concern for the future ... is whether state and local responder assets will be sufficiently robust to deal with ... attacks." Only 13% of fire departments, he notes, can provide lifesaving initial treatment in a chemical or biological weapons attack with more than 10 casualties. Vice President Dick Cheney's home state, Wyoming, gets nearly $36 per person in federal anti-terrorism funding, while California, with its long, vulnerable border and busy ports, receives $9.
Between tax cuts and continued growth of military spending, domestic funding even for anti-terror efforts will not flow easily. Rudman cannot be ignored, however, and his recommendations for more efficient use of the available funds would be cheap to carry out, if politically knotty.
Management improvements should include: beefing up the power of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security to quickly allocate funds to emergency responders; improving cooperation between the Homeland Security and Health and Human Services departments; providing localities in search of help with "one-stop shopping" in Washington; and making grants for several years, to facilitate planning. This is common sense, not radical thinking, and the administration's defensive response to Rudman is what's indefensible.