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By Samuel M. Simon
With the country at war, intelligence agencies say that the United States will almost certainly be the target of terrorism. While we all hope that the unthinkable will not happen, we must do what we can to prevent an attack and to ensure that we are prepared for whatever may come. President Bush has spoken often of the need to keep America secure from terrorism, but his rhetoric has not been followed by action. As we enter a new era of increasing uncertainty, the safety of the American people should be the first priority.
The president has been perfectly willing to put trillions of dollars behind his calls for “tax relief” for the wealthiest Americans. He has been willing to break the bank to pay for foreign wars, because, he claims, these actions will make the American people safer. But while the President has been unconcerned about spending $100 billion to wage war in Iraq, he has continuously refused to provide funding for homeland security, even when the funding is clearly needed to protect the American people.
The Coast Guard, the General Accounting Office and others have said that more funding is necessary to ensure that residents of port cities like Boston are safe. When Bush laid the final groundwork for war with Iraq, he pledged to protect the nation’s ports. We hope that he makes good on his pledge, but recent history provides many reasons to doubt. When the Coast Guard reported that secure ports would cost nearly $1 billion, Bush responded with rhetoric about the importance of the Coast Guard to national security, but he failed to request a single dollar in either his 2003 or his 2004 budgets. Congress overshot the President, appropriating $250 million, but Bush’s allies in Congress have repeatedly killed Democratic efforts to provide more funding.
Bush also called on the states to use local forces to protect possible targets of terrorist attacks. But this important line of defense against terrorism has also been forced to make sacrifices that are unnecessary and counterproductive to their mission. Bush pledged to provide $3.5 billion in 2003 to first responders—those firefighters, police officers and other officials who are responsible for protecting the public in the case of a terrorist attack—and an additional $3.5 billion in 2004. Instead, Bush transferred $1.2 billion in federal funds already earmarked for local law enforcement to a similar program with a different name. Through some slick accounting and fuzzy math, Bush made it seem like this $1.2 billion transfer was a $1.2 billion increase in funding for homeland security. After this fiscal sleight of hand, the President provided only 71 percent of the funding increase he had promised. The Administration’s failure to provide adequate funding has put serious strain on local departments. As one Massachusetts police officer told the Boston Globe, the same officers are now expected to do more work for the same pay, even as the threats they face grow larger.
Even when Congress appropriates money, there is no guarantee that the President will spend it. Bush has refused to spend $2.5 billion of Homeland Security spending from last year, $800 million of which was for the first responders that the President is now calling on to protect the likely targets of terror. The money was not saved for other projects; it was just left on the table. The Massachusetts Legislature has repeatedly called on Bush to release the funding, but the Administration has turned a deaf ear. Only recently did the President provide $11.6 million of a promised $556 million that was supposed to have been available to the state last June. The money came too late to prevent layoffs of police officers and firefighters, and the calendar for future aid is unclear. First responders make sacrifices every day to provide security in an increasingly insecure world. They deserve more than fuzzy math and phony rhetoric.
But the Bush Administration’s security problems go beyond money. Former New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen describes a pattern of disorganized, unhelpful behavior on the part of federal officials. When federal intelligence agencies declared that the northeast faced an increased risk of terrorism last year, Shaheen’s office received a warning call. While Shaheen was glad to be warned about the risk, she was disappointed when federal officials were unable or unwilling to provide any information that could help New Hampshire protect its citizens, including when and where they expected an attack, and why they felt an attack was likely.
“It would almost have been better if they hadn’t told us,” Shaheen recalls.
President Bush has spoken often and at great length of his commitment to protecting the American people. He has shown his willingness to go after terrorists and other suspected threats anywhere in the world. But if his commitment to protecting his constituents here in the United States is real, it must be backed by adequate funding, and it must start at home.
Samuel M. Simon ’06 lives in Matthews Hall.
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