The Magazine

The High Price of Homeland Security

To solve a big problem requires a big budget.

Mar 3, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 24 • By FRED BARNES
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One good idea is the use of the National Guard. "In the immediate near-term," Lieberman said, "selected guard units can be dispatched to defend underdefended chemical plants, as well as biological and nuclear facilities." Guard units would be withdrawn once "a longer-term public-private security strategy" is developed. Another worthwhile idea is the purchase of new technology to integrate emergency communications systems in states. This should be "a higher priority" for the Bush administration, Scardaville said. Lieberman also said, correctly, that more police, firefighters, and emergency personnel should be hired and trained in the short run.

Which brings us to the additional spending that would be helpful now: money for states, strictly for the purpose of homeland security. Many state governors don't deserve the aid. They're whiners who let their budgets get out of hand during the economic boom of the late 1990s when revenues gushed in. But with the economic downturn and stock market collapse, most states are now in fiscal trouble and lack funds for homeland security. Besides, past profligacy is not reason enough to fund homeland security meagerly. In this case, more federal funds are needed.

Listen to GOP governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. "If we're really expected to do an adequate job in homeland security, there's no way we can do it with our current resources," he says. The "biggest single need we have," Huckabee says, is to upgrade emergency communications. In a terrorist attack--or a tornado or flood, for that matter--the various jurisdictions won't be in contact. Patching them together--or "creating the capacity to interface," as Huckabee puts it--won't happen without more federal aid than is currently in the pipeline. The money his state has gotten so far, the governor asserts, is "popcorn, peanut money." Other governors express similar sentiments.

Increasing aid to states won't be easy for the White House to swallow. Because of Democratic troublemaking, the 2003 budget just recently passed, nearly 5 months into the fiscal year. And no doubt Democrats would gloat if Bush suddenly wants to spend more on homeland security. So what? Bush has changed his mind before to bolster the war on terrorism. He initially opposed and then proposed a cabinet-level homeland security department and the arming of airline pilots. And if giving states more money helps thwart a cynical ploy by Democrats, so much the better.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.