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Protect Against Terror ...

March 16, 2003

"Thousands of trained killers are plotting to attack us," President Bush warned Americans in June, calling his proposal to create a Homeland Security Department "urgent."

Nine months later, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton rails that the Bush administration has left this city's cops and firefighters unprepared for a terrorist attack. Gov. Gray Davis complains that the feds have paid a pittance of what California needs for security measures. Bush brags that he has released $556 million for homeland defense. And a nervous public is left to wonder why federal, state and local officials spend more time squabbling than trying to plug the vulnerabilities revealed Sept. 11, 2001.

The budgetary bottom line is simple: Ya gets what ya pays for. And instead of coming up with the money to offer real domestic protection against terrorists, the administration is treating homeland security like an unwanted stepchild.

Why, for instance, have governors and mayors been stiffed on funding promised by the president for training firemen and policemen to respond to terrorist attacks? The administration has been blaming Congress for delays on 2003 funding, but Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young (R-Fla.), who, as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, oversees the new Homeland Security Department's money, is having none of it.

In a March 6 letter, Young blasted White House officials, calling their statements "factually inaccurate." He said the administration should "move on from this pointless and harmful debate."

Bush's proposed 2004 budget compounds the mischief. Protecting America's shipping ports over the next decade will cost $4.4 billion, according to the Coast Guard. The administration provides no money for port security. Bush also is proposing to cut border and transportation security by $284 billion and is asking for no additional funds to hire immigrations or customs staff. Unfortunately, as they prepare the 2004 budget, congressional Republicans appear to be going along with the president's inadequate proposals.

The closer the United States draws to war, the more it needs to focus on defending its towns and cities -- despite the fact that the war will tap the same shrinking money pot needed to pay for police officers' gas masks. True, if foolproof protection is the national goal, then budget director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. is right: "There is not enough money in the galaxy." And state and local leaders nationwide need to recognize that the federal government can't pay for every hour that cops devote to homeland security work, which will often overlap regular duties. But that doesn't mean the president's penny-wise approach won't ultimately prove foolish.

If the threat of biological, chemical and nuclear attack warrants spending billions to keep almost 300,000 troops on war alert in the Persian Gulf, it's serious enough for the president to find the money to protect Americans at home.

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