Funding Homeland Security
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MARGARET WARNER: The nation’s governors are in Washington this week talking about the serious budget problems, most of them face. Among the areas they hope for more help from the federal government is homeland security.
The long-awaited budget law for the current fiscal year, signed by the president last week, included $1.3 billion in new funding for local first responders — police, fire and medical rescue personnel. This was less than the states had hoped for. For the fiscal year that begins next October, the president has asked for $3.5 billion more.
To discuss the state of homeland security in the states, we’re joined by two governors: Republican John Rowland of Connecticut and Democrat Bill Richardson of New Mexico. Welcome to you both.
Pres. Bush went before you today and said he wants to work with the states to protect America against terrorism. Gov. Richardson, understanding, of course, that probably nothing is ever quite enough, but does your state have at least the bare minimum it needs from the federal government in the way of resources for fighting terrorism?
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: No, it doesn’t. And my state is especially vulnerable because we have two nuclear weapons labs, four military bases. But the president was very clear that he’s committed to homeland security, and in his defense he proposed $3.2 billion to the Congress. And unfortunately, the Congress, instead of giving the states and the president that amount, they made a number of what are called earmarks, special projects for their own self. And that’s diminished that $1.2 billion.
In addition, it has caused us to wait this long at a time when we need resources for some of these first responders — training, equipment for police and fire that we need. So I think the president made a good case that for next year he’s got to try to do a larger amount. He is giving us good direction, so is the Homeland Security Office, but in the area of resources, we’re hurting badly.
MARGARET WARNER: Gov. Rowland, do you agree with that, and if so, what is really suffering? What haven’t you been able to do that you’d like to be able to do?
GOV. JOHN ROWLAND: Well, I think there’s a combination things at work; first and foremost, what the president has done is he’s really teamed up with the states. He understands that the funding should go through the governors. There’s a movement to send some of the money through the mayors, and as Billy adequately pointed out, the Congress has gotten involved with earmarks and has kind of steered money in directions that they think that they need.
The truth of the matter is, that the issues in New Mexico are different than the problems and the issues in Connecticut, where we have two nuclear facilities; we’re close to New York. But we also have to factor in what else happens at the federal level. We’re using our Coast Guard. We have a lot of air force activity.
We have some of our radar detection devices being worked to watch air space over Connecticut. Of course, that’s probably true throughout the entire Northeast. The other key issue that we haven’t talked much about is public health. We had an anthrax death in Connecticut, so if I had more funding, I would put it towards more public health issues, making sure that our HAZMAT folks have the proper equipment and training.
Communication is a key, key area. It took me about 20 years to get our state police to be able to talk to each other, and I would like to be able to have that communication capabilities at the front line as well as among our state police.
And then, of course, you have inoculation and bioterrorism. So you really have two venues: One is the direct protection and the bells and whistles of having the equipment; and then the other one is on the public health side, which is to be prepared for any kind of bioterrorism coming our way.
MARGARET WARNER: Gov. Richardson, there has been a lot more federal money put into public health, as I understand. How does it look in New Mexico in terms of how much better prepared are you today than say on Sept. 10 to respond to some kind of chem or bio attack?
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Well, we are better prepared, and there I will give the administration credit, not just the Homeland Security, but Health and Human Services; they coordinate well. The funding is coming. In our case, we’re involved in everything from inoculations to bioterrorism training, towards we have some very rural areas, remote Indian reservations where we want to be sure that the smaller communities get the advantage of this kind of very specialized assistance.
So on that score, we’re doing well. Where we’re hurting a bit is in the equipment and training for fire and police that would be the first line responders in case of a terrorist attack. What we’re not asking for, Margaret, is extra handouts and money. What we’re asking for is… terrorism is a new threat. States have the responsibility for local protection of our people. But when you’re talking about an international threat, international penetration of our state — and I worry because we have those nuclear weapons labs, we have those military bases; if you’re not going to hit the Northeast, some say that New Mexico is strategically very important to the U.S. — I just want us to be prepared.
MARGARET WARNER: Gov. Rowland, we had the head of the International Firefighters Union on this program ten days ago, and talking about the lack of equipment and training.
He said basically a lot of firefighters and other first responders just don’t have the equipment to know, I mean, if a chemical or biological attack occurred, which is essentially invisible, to detect what it was, what the attack was, and therefore prepare the public health system to go into overdrive to deal with it. And I’m just wondering, in your state, how well prepared do you think the first responders are in that particular area, the sort of detection of a bio or chemical attack?
GOV. JOHN ROWLAND: Let me say this. We have an unknown enemy that could attack at an unknown time in an unknown location. So you could probably interview police, fire, emergency personnel from New Mexico, from Connecticut, from Florida, and find that there could be some exposure or some opening to some issue that could threaten the lives of the people that live in our states.
So having said that, the key is for us to evaluate at the state level what we really need to be prepared for whatever comes our way. None of us, no governor, is waiting for the federal government to tell us what to do, how to do it, and then say, "Oh, by the way, we’ll send some funding me later on."
So what we try to do is analyze our key assets. Billy and I both have a list of key assets in both of our states. We have to analyze and go through working with Tom Ridge and the Homeland Security Department, what the intelligence says. You know, on a scale of zero to ten, or use the color-coordinated system, what’s the real threat that exists today and tomorrow? How can we… how and should we be prepared?
On the HAZMAT side, I think it’s obvious that our front line, our firemen and police, need to have the best training and the best equipment possible. There’s no blame or fingers to be pointed, but the Congress has taken a lot of time to get the original proposal by the administration through.
It took a lot of time to get the Homeland Security Department put together, a one hundred thousand-person bureaucracy. Bottom line is that we are on the front line. We’re making these decisions every day, whether the federal government is paying for it, directing us to do it, or even partnership with us.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, and Governors, this doesn’t really involve money, but more information sharing and coordination. Early on there were complaints from a lot of governors and mayors that, for instance, when the threat level goes up, you all don’t really know what that means, what the federal government or the experts at the federal level think needs to be done, and that there wasn’t enough information sharing, say, about intelligence information, who’s on the terrorist watch list, and so on.
How much better is that now? For instance, when the color, when the threat level went to orange two weeks ago, did you all know what to do? Did you feel that you had enough coordination and information from the feds?
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Well, I felt I did. And I want to commend the Homeland Security Department and Director Ridge. It’s much, much improved. For instance, Margaret, when we had the tragedy of the space shuttle, I was immediately called by Director Ridge to say it was not a terrorist threat. That was useful to me, because, as you know, some of the debris may have come into our state. And that was extremely useful. So I give the administration high marks in their coordination area.
MARGARET WARNER: And how about on the law enforcement side?
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Well, on the law enforcement side, that has been a little slower. That involves…and again, I served in the cabinet here, so I know how difficult it is to get the FBI and Justice Department and everybody working under one roof. So it’s a little slower there, but it’s moving in the right direction.
MARGARET WARNER: Gov. Rowland?
GOV. JOHN ROWLAND: Well, I would agree with Billy. I’ve said to Tommy Ridge on so many different occasions, try not to spend too much time and energy getting all the law enforcement agencies to share and communicate, especially on the intelligence side. But I will say, I’ve served under two administrations over the last eight years, and this administration has done an excellent job, as the previous one has, in reaching out to the governors, informing us.
When the orange code notification went out, Tom Ridge was on the phone with all governors, gave us probably half-hour’s notice. We then can literally pick up our manuals and say, "okay, under code orange, what are the precautions that we need to take?" Now, having said all that, this is an imperfect world. And you’re damned if do you, you’re damned if you don’t.
And when our intelligence agencies receive information, they have to have some discretion to figure out the source of the information, is it viable, is it an impending threat? And then the key for Billy and I: Is it specific? And we know on numerous occasions when there’s been specific information, specific governors have been called and specific actions have taken place.
But in this very imperfect world, we have law enforcement agencies, civilians and everybody and their brother making sure that if you see anything irregular, if you’re getting information, and certainly all the technology that we have, offers us the tools to make sure that we’re safe. But at the end of the day, you still have to make the call as to whether, and Tom Ridge does this, whether to go to code orange and whether to be safe versus sorry.
And I think that’s the bottom line for homeland security people. They’d rather be safe than sorry. So when they get information to us that may not be as specific as we’d like, I’d still rather have the information, take precautions, than having something happen and have not been ready. That’s really the underlining problem that you face in homeland security.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Gov. Rowland and Gov. Richardson, thank you both.
GOV. JOHN ROWLAND: Thank you.
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Thank you.