Testimony of Jamie Metzl Before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security

July 17, 2003

Testimony by CFR fellows and experts before Congress.



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United States

Homeland Security



July 17, 2003

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee,

Thank you for inviting me to testify before you today. It is an honor for me to be here.

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United States

Homeland Security

I serve as Project Director of the Council on Foreign Relations Independent task Force on Emergency Responders, where I work with our Chairman, Senator Warren Rudman and Senior Advisor Richard Clarke. The non-partisan task force has brought together leading Americans from diverse political and professional backgrounds to examine whether or not America is sufficiently prepared for another terrorist attack. Our members include former Secretary of State George Shultz, former CIA and FBI Director William Webster, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the former Chief of Staff of the Army, three Nobel laureates, and other senior experts of a similar stature.

The Task Force met with local emergency responders across the country, worked closely with emergency responder professional associations, and partnered on spending-related issues with two of the national leading budgetary analysis organizations, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment and the Concord Coalition. Based on these extensive contacts and the totality of our investigation, we came to one very simple conclusion: almost two years after 9/11, America is not sufficiently prepared for another terrorist attack.

This is not to say that we are not better prepared to address some aspects of the terrorist threat or that the government has done nothing since 9/11. In our report entitled Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared which we released on June 30, the Task Force credited the Bush administration, Congress, governors, and mayors with taking important steps since the September 11 attacks to respond to the risk of catastrophic terrorism. It is to say, however, that we are not as prepared as we must be given the magnitude of the threat we face and the tremendous repercussions of another attack. As Senator Rudman has said, the question is not if the next attack will take place, but rather when it will take place.

Somewhere in the world, perhaps even here in America, terrorists are now likely planning attacks on the United States. At the same time, America’s diplomats, military officers, intelligence agents, policemen, firefighters, and others are working frantically to prevent and prepare for such an attack. These two groups of people are in a race with each other that our side cannot afford to lose.

An effective homeland security strategy must therefore play both offense and defense. We must attack terrorists wherever they are, cut off their financing, and destroy their networks. We must also address global causes of instability that provide fertile soil for the recruitment of terrorists. At home, we must protect our critical infrastructure, keep our airways, ports, and highways safe, and make sure that our local policemen, firefighters, health workers and others have the equipment and the training they need to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks. Although there are many aspects of homeland security that need to be reviewed, our examination focused on the preparedness of emergency responders. What we found shocked us.

We found that on average, fire departments across the country have only enough radios to equip half the firefighters on a shift, and breathing apparatuses for only one third. We found that a mere ten percent of fire departments in the United States have the personnel and equipment to respond to a building collapse. We found that police departments in cities across the country do not have the protective gear to safely secure a site following an attack with weapons of mass destruction. We found that public health labs in most states still lack basic equipment and expertise to adequately respond to a chemical or biological attack, and that 75 percent of state laboratories report being overwhelmed by too many testing requests. In sum, we found that emergency responders across the country don’t have the equipment and the training they need to respond safely and effectively to a terrorist attack.

In order to quantify this preparedness gap, we worked with each emergency responder community -- fire, police, emergency medical, public health, emergency management, and others -- and asked them to determine and cost out the minimum essential capabilities they required to be prepared for a terrorist attack. We were very clear that we were not asking for a wish list, and we carefully reviewed the data we collected from these sources. We were extremely conservative in our estimates.

The high funding estimate provided to us by the fire community, for example, was roughly $85 billion over five years. The number that we ended up using for our calculation, however, was $37 billion. The high estimate for establishing interoperable communications was $18 billion over five years, but we used the much lower number of $6.8 billion based on the more economical funding model of the Capital Wireless Integration Network project in the greater DC area. Most significantly, because police organizations were unable to provide us with any reliable estimates of their need, we decided not to include a police figure rather than include a number we would not be able to support. Finally, we assumed that every dollar allocated for emergency responders would be used to address terrorism preparedness needs, not for more generic purposes.

Based on our calculations, we found that America will fall roughly $98.4 billion short of meeting critical emergency responder needs over the next five years if current federal, state, and local funding levels are maintained. According to our estimates, combined federal, state, and local expenditures would need to be as much as tripled over the next five years to address this unmet need. As you know, states across the country are in their worst financial situation in decades, and there are many who argue that terrorism is a national security threat which, according to the constitution, is primarily a responsibility of the federal government. Covering the $98.4 billion funding shortfall using federal funds alone, therefore, would require a five-fold increase from the current level of $5.4 billion per year to an annual federal expenditure of $25.1 billion.

Among other things, these additional funds are badly needed to enhance federal and local urban search and rescue capabilities; to foster interoperable communications systems for emergency responders across the country; to enhance public health preparedness by strengthening laboratories and disease tracking capabilities, and training public health professionals for biological, chemical, and radiological events; to provide basic protective gear and WMD remediation equipment to firefighters; to support an extensive series of national exercises that would allow responders to improve on response techniques; to enhance emergency agricultural and veterinary capabilities for response to a potential national food supply attack; and to help develop surge capacity in the nation’s hospitals to help them better prepare for a WMD attack.

While these critical needs must be addressed immediately, our Task Force is the first to admit that our figures for meeting them are preliminary and that the Unites States must develop a more sophisticated requirements-generation process. Unless we both get the necessary resources to America’s front-line emergency responders and create a policy framework for spending these funds most efficiently, the American taxpayer will not receive the best return on our investments in homeland security and, more importantly, we will not be as safe as we must become. If we allocate the funds without getting the policy issues right, or if we get the policy issues right without allocating the funds, we will not be prepared. America must do both.

The centerpiece of this policy framework must be national preparedness standards. America needs national standards that define what emergency preparedness means. Every city of a given size should have a minimum set of capabilities -- they should be able to respond to a biological event of a certain size, decontaminate a certain number of people, etc. But because America has not defined what preparedness is, we have no way of knowing systematically how prepared we are or what we need to do to get from where we are now to where we need to be. Standards should not become the basis for federal micromanaging of state and local governments, but they must establish minimum essential capabilities that every jurisdiction of a certain size should either have or have access to. Within these parameters, state and local governments should be allowed flexibility for determining priorities and allocating resources so long as national standards are met over a fixed period of time.

National standards can then provide the basis for a requirements process similar to that employed by the United States military. Threats must be identified, capabilities for addressing threats determined, and requirements generated for establishing or otherwise gaining access to necessary capabilities. Effective coordination and planning between and among all levels of government and emergency responders on the ground must then transform new capabilities into a national preparedness system.

A second element in getting the policy framework right is fixing the system for allocating scarce emergency responder funds. It makes no sense to distribute funds based primarily on a divide the spoils formula. As Secretary Ridge and others have correctly asserted, we need to think less about politics and more about our vulnerabilities and the hierarchy of threats facing us when making decisions about distributing funds. This must be the case on both the federal and on the state level. Otherwise, our funds will be diluted to the point of being wasted. America must smartly allocate our limited resources to address our greatest vulnerabilities.

In addition, the erratic nature of federal funding has created perverse incentives for short-term thinking among cities and states, and this process must be fixed. State and local governments can’t make long-term decisions to address their needs without confidence that increased federal funding will be sustained. Multi-year funding is extremely difficult in our political system, even for military appropriations, but we must work to create confidence among states and localities that funding levels will be maintained over time in order to establish proper incentives for systematic, long-term planning.

You are the experts on the issue of Congressional oversight, and I am therefore hesitant to make recommendations regarding how Congress might be organized. Nevertheless, the Task Force found that an estimated 88 committees and subcommittees of the House and Senate have a hand in the unwieldy homeland security authorization and appropriations process. For this reason, the Task Force has recommended that the authorization and appropriations processes must be focused and streamlined both to ensure necessary oversight and to better guarantee that funds will be appropriated and distributed with necessary speed. The Task Force believes that Congress should have a lead committee, or an effective joint committee, to shape overall policy in order to prevent the fragmentation of oversight and the distortion of appropriations. As I’m sure you know, the Task Force has recommended that the House of Representatives transform this committee into a standing committee and give it a formal, leading role in the authorization of all emergency responder expenditures.

Finally, the federal and state grants systems are duplicative and unnecessarily complicated and serve to slow the funding process for no real benefit. The current inflexible structure of homeland security funding, along with shifting federal requirements and increased amounts of paperwork, place unnecessary burdens on state and local governments. For example, some states have been required to submit as many as five homeland security plans in order to qualify for federal assistance. While a balance should be maintained between the need for the rapid allocation of emergency preparedness funds and the maintenance of appropriate oversight to ensure that such funds are well spent, the present danger is too great to allow for business as usual. As part of an overall response to this larger structural problem, we believe that Congress should require DHS to work with other federal agencies to streamline homeland security grant programs in a way that reduces unnecessary duplication and establishes coordinated “one-stop shopping” for state and local authorities seeking grant funds.

America’s local emergency responders will always be the first to confront a terrorist incident and will play the central role in managing its immediate consequences. Their efforts in the first minutes and hours following an attack will be critical to saving lives, reestablishing order, and preventing mass panic. America would not think of sending our military to fight a war overseas without proper equipment and training. It is therefore unconscionable that we are not providing those same necessities to the local emergency responders who are also on the front lines of the war on terror.

One of the many things we learned from the 9/11 attacks is that our local emergency responders will rush to the scene of a terrorist incident, even if they do not have everything they will need once they get there. In New York, this led to inexcusable deaths. The United States has both a responsibility and a critical need to provide our emergency responders with the equipment, training, and other necessary resources to do their jobs safely and effectively. Otherwise, we will all be in unnecessary danger. America must do better.

Thank you very much. I look forward to answering any questions you may have.

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