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September 02, 2005

Blame Enough to Go Around

Not to be entirely callous here, but this is a good time to talk about those Homeland Security grants that 60 minutes and NBC Dateline have profiled.

New Orleans Mayor Nagin has been talking about inadequate federal preparation for Hurricane Katrina, and inadequate response, as if the City of New Orleans had no self help responsibility.

Let’s just look at the area of Homeland Security preparedness grants of various types. These grants are very controversial, since Congress mandated in the Homeland Security Act that all states must receive at least one half of one percent of any grant funds. As a result, NYC is still scrambling to buy better radios for its cops and firefighters, while sheriffs in tiny Tennessee burgs and rural Wyoming cruise around on new Polaris ATVs and maxed out new SUVs.

Here are the funds that I can readily ascertain were received, or on their way into, New Orleans, surrounding parishes, and Louisiana’s bank accounts. Some of the money was to go to first responders – the fire departments and the notoriously (now proven) corrupt and ineffective New Orleans P.D.

As long as Mayor Nagin is going to ask difficult questions of everybody else, I think we should ask a few as well.

FY 2004 DHS First Responder Grants

General First Responder Grants $6.25 Million
Port Security Grants $6.24 Million

US Department of Justice Homeland Security Grants, FY 2005

To NO and surrounding parishes $9.30 Million allocated
To Baton Rouge $5.25 Million

Total Funds Appropriated for Homeland Security Upgrades in Louisiana

Preparedness Funds Total $42.5 Million

That’s not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but it is a pretty good chunk of change. I suppose in the inevitable Congressional hearings – which will point the finger at everyone and everything except for Congress’ inane Homeland Security funding allocation laws – we may hear how the money was actually spent, or not spent, or simply pissed away. When those hearings come, it would behoove us to remember, that the people with primary responsibility for taking care of us is… ourselves. The local mayor, fire department and police department are elected and hired, respectively, to take care of us. The federal government can help provide a safety net, but it isn’t the proper (or the most practical source) of the overarching care and preparedness that must be in place prior to any disaster. As Michael Chertoff has said repeatedly, and Tom Ridge before him, first responders must be the first line of defense against catastrophic attacks or other emergencies.

Mayor Nagin is highly critical that the Feds didn’t do enough in advance, and aren’t doing enough now to help out – at least he’s pointing fingers when he’s not too busy throwing in the towel.

But the fact is, there are simply too many people who believe their city, county, town, village, unincorporated hamlet should be a top priority, for the federal government to make each and every one of them a top priority. From a federal standpoint, there are limited resources of money and personnel to go around. Which are you going to prioritize for hurricane preparedness – New Orleans, which has done okay over the last 50 years, or Florida, which has been bombed with hurricanes roughly twice yearly for the last decade, with three awesome hits in a row coming last fall?

You know what? For you, your family, your home, and your neighborhood and your city are your top priority. As well they should be. You should make your local officials make it their top priority too.

If every single town and village and house and boat around the country is the Fed’s top priority – an impression you could get from the inane Homeland Security funding scheme – then in reality nothing is a top priority. The preparedness and the programmed response, will give the appearance of token-ism. If Mount Airy NC is as high of a priority as new York City or New Orleans, then the Feds are duty bound to prepare for disasters in Mount Airy just as much as New York, or New Orleans. It might make you feel good to know that your scenic little burg up in the hills gets just as much consideration as a port, petroleum and commerce center of 2 million people, but when the excrement hits the rotary oscillator, you would do well to remember why it is, that emergency response to that big urban center is cramped.

One other thing. California Rep Chris Cox has been on the warpath for two years over the grant formulas, and vowed in a 60 minutes interview last spring that he was going to get the formulas changed. Those grants are an important source of pork for many, many members of Congress, especially those from places without many roads or people, that are often overlooked in other bloated Congressional handout packages like the Energy Bill and the Transportation Bill. Rep. Cox was nominated a couple months ago to take over the Chair at the Securities and Exchange Commission, which effectively removes him from chairmanship of the House Homeland Security Committee. Coincidence? As Congress starts the finger wagging, remind yourself of this fact. I would ask you also to ask yourself a question: what is more important to me and to my representatives in Washington – protecting the country from war and disaster, or bringing home gravy to our district? For decades, we’ve underfunded the Corps of Engineers flood relief projects, and now in the Homeland Security arena, we’re underfunding first responders in big cities to keep senators from rural states (and those road & energy hog urbanized states) happy. This is the question that should be getting asked here, rather than “who’s to blame.” If I had the money, I’d buy a set of mirrors large enough to cover the front walls of the House and Senate’s main halls, where Bill Frist and Denny Hastert stand to speak, and I’d donate them to Congress. Somebody has to force them to look in the mirror for a change.

Posted by Blackavar at September 2, 2005 09:12 AM | TrackBack
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