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There’s No Place Like Home: So Protect It! Lesson #5 (of 7) from the Aftermath of 9/11

In the aftermath of 9/11, perhaps the most obvious lesson was that the United States was inadequately protected against attacks on our homeland. After the dust settled a bit on the shocking results, a task force was formed among members of the US Council on Foreign Relations to review America’s preparedness, and what might be done to improve it. The leader of the task force, Senator Warren Rudman, oversaw the publication of the final report from the task force in 2003, entitled: “EMERGENCY RESPONDERS: DRASTICALLY UNDERFUNDED, DANGEROUSLY UNPREPARED”, said: “Estimated combined federal, state, and local expenditures …. would need to be as much as tripled over the next five years to address this unmet need.” In 2003, we were spending about $30 billion on homeland security. (www.cfr.org/content/publications/attachments/Responders_TF.pdf). Looking at the Homeland Security budget, and what has actually happened since that time, it seems clear that we are still dramatically underfunded in some key categories.

Certainly, initial years of Department of Homeland Security do not seem to reflect a well-planned and well-run growth structure. In a report entitled “What Has Homeland Security Cost?” published in Current Issues in Economics by the Federal Reserve Bank (http://www.newyorkfed.org/research/current_issues/ci13-2.pdf), Authors Hobijn and Sager state: “An analysis of public and private expenditures on homeland security shows that overall spending rose by $34 billion between 2001 and 2005—a clear increase but one that represents a gain of only 1?4 of 1 percent as a share of U.S. GDP.” They also observed: “To put these figures in a historical context, we turn to estimates from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that shed light on homeland security spending in the years before and after 2001. According to the GAO estimates reported in Hobijn (2002), federal homeland security spending made up about 0.1 percent of GDP in the 1996-2001 period. This share increased to 0.35 percent in 2002 and has remained relatively stable since.” Keep in mind that the CFR report, indicating that spending for Emergency Response and other elements of Homeland Security needed to grow by as much as 300% by their estimates to do things as straight-forward as:

  • Extend the emergency-911 system nationally to foster effective emergency data collection and accurate local dispatch
  • Foster interoperable communications systems for emergency responders across the country so that those on the front lines can communicate with each other while at the scene of an attack
  • Provide protective gear and WMD remediation equipment to firefighters

These changes are not rocket science, and should have been among the first steps undertaken. Aside from the fact that it simply took too long to do the simple things, our Government is still underfunding some of those areas that are most critical to our national security, arguably because they are those areas with the greatest political sensitivity.

A more egregious example is the budgetary allocation to US Customs & Border Protection, US Immigration & Customs Enforcement, and the US Coast Guard. To understand what I mean, consider the following chart, produced by the Heritage Foundation, reflects the Homeland Security Budget from 2009 – 2011:

The responsibilities of the United States Coast Guard since 9/11 have only expanded, and run the gamut from drug interdiction and counterterrorism to environmental cleanup and border security. While many other countries are significantly ramping their coastal protection services, the Coast Guard has been short on resources for many years. Congress eventually cut most of the $950 billion budget request for Coast Guard modernization in FY 2007. Given that the Coast Guard was already underfunded for much of the previous decade, further reductions in personnel, equipment, or operations reflect poor decision making on the part of our leaders. The Coast Guard needs a tremendous financial commitment in order to keep up with its rapidly expanding mission base, and this takes us in the wrong direction.

While there are many other examples, the bottom line here is that homeland security was always underfunded. On September 11, 2001 the impact was felt acutely, but we have felt it a number of times. Hurricane Katrina was another such example of an understaffed and inadequately equipped government structure responded with too little coordination and too little effect, and responded far too late. There are many places that Federal, State, and local government spending could be reduced without impairing vital services, and certainly without impacting national security. Failing to dramatically increase Homeland Security funding – and more importantly capability – as Senator Rudman outlined causes me to conclude that this is another critical lesson that America has not learned well in the aftermath of 9/11.

What do you think?

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