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Bush Chides Congress for Anti-Terror Spending

$1 billion earmarked for state and local agencies went to lawmakers' pet projects, president says.

March 01, 2003|James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — On the eve of the merger of nearly two dozen federal agencies into the Department of Homeland Security, President Bush renewed his argument with the Republican-led Congress on Friday that spending for state and local law enforcement officers and emergency workers has been shortchanged by $1 billion.

Bush used a speech intended to mark today's official start of the Cabinet department's operations to delve into the dispute, presenting a rare instance of the Republican president taking issue with the work of the Republican-led Congress.

The dispute revolves around lawmakers' redirection of federal dollars to pet projects -- many of them in the crime-fighting arena but not related directly to fighting terrorism.

Bush had proposed spending $3.5 billion in the current fiscal year to help state and local emergency teams meet the added cost of protecting their communities from potential terrorist attacks.

Congress, he said, "reduced my total request ... by $1 billion, and designated part of the funding to go to other priorities."

Bush signed the spending measure last week, he said, "to make sure that we can finally begin to distribute funding to the states."

In response to complaints he has received in recent weeks from governors and other officials that the federal government is ordering them to protect the homeland but not providing enough money for the job, he said: "I will continue to do everything in my power to direct as much of this funding as possible toward training and equipping police, firefighters and [emergency medical technicians] to prepare and respond to potential terrorist attacks."

Bush spoke in a government auditorium filled with representatives of the roughly 170,000 government employees whose agencies become part of the new department today. The reorganization will draw workers from across much of the federal government's spectrum -- including the departments of Agriculture, Justice, Transportation and Treasury.

Not since the Department of Defense was created in 1947 has such a large reshuffling occurred.

Arrayed on a stage behind Bush, in their uniforms of midnight-blue jackets, olive-green tunics, crisp white shirts and dark-blue windbreakers, were members of the Coast Guard, Secret Service, Federal Protective Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Border Patrol, Customs Service and Transportation Security Administration.

Although they will report to a new Cabinet member, Secretary Tom Ridge, their work will remain unchanged: protecting the nation's borders, transportation networks, crops, computer networks and government buildings and officials.

"Every member of this new department accepts an essential mission to prevent another terrorist attack," Bush said. "Yours is a vital and important step in reorganizing our government to meet the threats of a new era."

While Bush said congressional leaders agreed with his complaints about funding, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer sought to shift the blame to the previous Congress, in which Democrats led the Senate.

"A process that broke last fall was too far broken to be repaired," Fleischer said. "The president had to make the difficult decision that instead of getting the homeland security money the way he would have preferred it, to have helped do more for 'first responders,' that it was best to accept the progress that Congress did make, to sign the bill."

Democratic governors attending the meeting of the National Governors Assn. in Washington this week complained directly to Bush that they were being asked to do more by the federal government without being given enough money, particularly when they are facing serious budget shortfalls.

On Friday, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination and the senior Democrat on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said the Bush administration asserts its readiness to defend the country against terrorist attack but "has been miserly when it comes to funding the effort here at home."

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