States say relations with Homeland Security thorny

Hank Hayes • Dec 25, 2007 at 12:00 AM

State homeland security directors continue to report “unsatisfactory progress” in their relationship with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), according to a National Governors Association (NGA) survey.

The NGA Center for Best Practices survey said more than half the states, 57 percent, reported being “dissatisfied” or “somewhat dissatisfied” with their overall communications with DHS, and 60 percent said the quality of communications had either not changed or had deteriorated since 2006.

In anonymous comments submitted in the survey, one state official asserted that DHS’ approach “remains adversarial,” while another official suggested DHS “lacks an understanding of what really transpires in the states.”

Few survey respondents also felt DHS grant programs were adequately funded.

Sixty-six percent of the respondents said the State Homeland Security Grant Program does not strike an adequate balance among preparedness, prevention, response and recovery activities. Nearly half of the respondents said they either have been unable to perform all-hazards activities using the grant program or do not believe the program adequately emphasizes all-hazards planning.

About seven in 10 survey respondents said the states’ relationship with DHS could be improved with additional grant funding.

The survey also said only about one-third of states have at least 75 percent of their National Guard forces available to respond to a natural or manmade disaster. Less than 40 percent said they had at least half their Guard forces on hand.

“To fill that gap, nearly all the states — 97 percent — reported having mutual aid agreements in place with other states to share National Guard resources, including equipment and personnel,” the survey said. “Increasingly, the National Guard is the governor’s ‘go to’ resource in the immediate aftermath of a disaster or emergency, particularly in the three to four days prior to federal assistance arriving on the scene. California’s response to the massive wildfires in the southern part of the state in October 2007, for example, included an initial deployment of 1,500 National Guard members and four helicopters. ... Nationally, state Guard forces also are being considered for limited roles in response to a pandemic influenza outbreak — for example, to enhance security for antiviral and vaccine distribution clinics or provide logistical support to state agencies during outbreaks.”

Survey respondents also pointed to an intelligence gap with vast numbers of Guard forces working for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

“Those under the control of DoD and the president of the United States ... have access to a broad range of federal intelligence databases, including those maintained by the Pentagon,” the survey said. “But forces deployed under the control and authority of the governor are denied access to some of that same intelligence.”

The NGA survey was based on a poll of 56 state and territorial homeland security advisers who comprise the Governors Homeland Security Advisors Council. Forty-four of those officials completed the survey, according to NGA.

For more, go to www.nga.org.

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