Report: State and Local Officials Still Denied Information

WASHINGTON – State and local homeland security officials – the first responders and preventers in the war on terror at home – have not yet been fully integrated into the Bush Administration’s national strategy on homeland security and continue to operate without critical information they need from the federal government, according to a Democratic staff report made public Wednesday by the Governmental Affairs Committee. Although some progress has been made, the report concludes that the Bush Administration’s stated commitment to sharing information with police officers, firefighters, and local government officials – the foot soldiers on the frontlines of the war on terror – has not been matched by corresponding action.

“The result of this lack of leadership by senior officials in the Administration is that many state and local officials – who all too often lack the funding, training, and technology to counter terrorism – are left, if not entirely blind, straining to see the terrorist threat and how best to respond to it,” according to the report. “The Bush Administration must act now and provide the aggressive leadership necessary to replace state and local officials’ blindfolds with binoculars and to provide them with a seat at the homeland security table.” Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., asked the full Democratic staff to prepare the report on information needs of state and local officials and the progress made by the Bush Administration to meet those needs. Staff interviewed a number of state, county, and city officials from states across the nation and reviewed congressional testimony and a range of independent studies. “If we are to successfully protect our citizens against future terrorist attacks, there must be genuine collaboration between federal, state, and local officials,” Lieberman said. “This is not an easy task, but so far, I haven’t seen the kind of leadership from the Administration that is necessary to break down barriers, cut through deeply ingrained cultures and build the partnerships that are absolutely critical to homeland security.” The report, entitled “State and Local Officials: Still Kept in the Dark About Homeland Security,” found that there is no systematic way for state and locals to communicate with federal officials, either to get information to them or get information from them. In many cases, no mechanisms exist for communications between states either. Many of the state officials interviewed complained of a cumbersome security clearance process that, because it takes so long, prevents them from obtaining classified information about terrorists and terrorist threats. And fire fighters have been almost completely excluded from the communications loop, even though they would be first on the scene of a biological or chemical attack. The report makes eight recommendations for improving the relationship and the information-sharing between the federal and local levels: · Consolidate a dozen terrorist watch lists and provide access to state and local law enforcement · Create national and regional task forces to coordinate information sharing needs · Streamline the security clearance process for designated state and local officials · Create in-state, 24-hour command centers for information sharing · Refine the Homeland Security Threat Advisory System to provide officials with specific information about threats and guidance for responding to those threats · Specify that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of State and Local Government Coordination be responsible for overseeing information-sharing · Evaluate federal officials on how well they share information · Make information sharing a management priority Almost two years after September 11th, state and local officials “are being asked to fight the war against terrorism with incomplete and unreliable access to one of the most potent weapons in the homeland security arsenal: information,” the report said. “…the Bush Administration’s rhetoric about making information sharing and systems a key to homeland security success has not translated into the kind of aggressive actions necessary to fundamentally change the status quo and protect the American people.”