Americans voted for change Nov. 4 — and no area of our federal government needs it more than our approach to funding Homeland Security needs.
The problems with the current system are as clear as they are ridiculous. Money is spent to provide bulletâˆ’proof vests for dogs in Ohio, security cameras on water towers in rural Arizona and a clown and puppet show in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, large urban targets like New York City and Los Angeles, which face the daily expense of dealing with protecting clear targets against terrorist threats, compete with small rural towns for security resources.
President Barack Obama took a first step toward changing our approach by nominating former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to be the new head of the Homeland Security Department. She is a tough leader who understands law and order and the managerial challenges of running what has become an unwieldy department.
For her to do a good job as the department’s new secretary, it is important she learns the lessons of what worked and did not under her predecessors. Here are some tips:
1. By now, we have all heard the stories about how Wyoming gets more Homeland Security funds than New York. The problem lies in the politics of giving every state a guaranteed minimum amount. Giving every state homeland security funds, whether needed or not, is wrong. It simply makes as little sense as giving landlocked states funding for jetties or giving Key West resources for snowplows. It is time we lose the outdated formulas and use threat levels to determine funding.
2. The best tool for localities to prevent terrorism is the same one that prevents other crimes: a wellâˆ’trained cop. But the way we fund homeland security prohibits paying for police officers. The result is spending on nice, sometimes extravagant, but rarely essential devices or projects that do not pass the smell test. Funding for more cops on the ground is a twofer: It helps us prepare for the emergency while giving communities an additional crimeâˆ’fighting presence.
3. Open the books on spending. Maybe when Napolitano was running the show in Arizona she knew what federal dollars for homeland security where being used for. But for the rest of us who want to measure what works and what does not, the Homeland Security budget has more blind spots than nearly any other part of the budget. For security reasons, it is smart not to outline specific tactics, targets or strategies, but we deserve oversight of an agency that hasn’t had it. Now is the time for the Homeland Security Department to work with city, state and federal leaders to direct resources where they are needed, not where they are hidden.
4. No one can argue our tax dollars have always been wellâˆ’spent in our ongoing effort to protect our nation from another attack. In 2003, only seven urban areas were eligible for one type of homeland security grant. That number has ballooned to 60 urban areas in 2008. That is bad policy. I have a bill that would limit funding to 15 areas only. That way, we could possibly spend less money overall, but in a more targeted, threatâˆ’based way and be safer.
Terrorist threats are real and we need a Homeland Security Department that can be trusted to identify targets, plan responses and take steps to prevent and protect attacks. It is time we stop sending money to phantom threats and give law enforcement the tools that they need to do their jobs. Change is coming to America and hopefully it means a more secure future.