WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- Mayors from four major U.S. cities asked senators Thursday to provide long-term block grants for boosting local homeland defense efforts.
The mayors, testifying before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies, said they need better communications channels to federal agencies.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., subcommittee chairwoman, agreed some offices have lagged in providing information.
"I now know more about what missiles went into what caves in Afghanistan than I know about what letters went where in the state of Maryland with anthrax. This is unacceptable," Mikulski said.
Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said the city expects to spend more than $11 million in unanticipated, security-related costs for the remainder of this year. While military operations have deep pockets, he said, financing for domestic anti-terrorism efforts needs a dramatic shift.
"Federal support today for local homeland security is a patchwork of programs that'll make your eyes go cross," O'Malley testified. "We cannot long sustain a war on two fronts if we're only willing to fund one of them."
O'Malley called for a Homeland Defense Block Grant program, where funds would be distributed based on a city's security needs and a threat assessment for the area. The grants would not be a blank check, however. O'Malley said the money should be earmarked specifically for emergency personnel, equipment, training and security-related capital expenses. Cities also would have to maintain their own budgetary levels -- cutting local spending and compensating with the grants would be prohibited.
Jeff Griffin, mayor of Reno, Nev., agreed with O'Malley, also telling senators the Office of Homeland Security must be made a full Cabinet position with budgetary authority. Giving the office that kind of clout would make it easier for OHS to open clear lines of communications between cities and federal offices.
Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk pointed out a basic incompatibility between today's public safety agencies and the needs of homeland defense -- many firefighters and police officers also are National Guardsmen or members of reserve military units.
"(Cities) don't mind the overtime we have to put in for police and fire for enhanced security," Kirk said. "But we just don't have the capability to both go to high alert and absorb the loss of 100 people for six or 12 or 18 months."
Kirk asked the subcommittee to consider stopgap funding to help fill those personnel slots lost to military service, a call seconded by O'Malley and Susan Savage, mayor of Tulsa, Okla. O'Malley also suggested a funding stream to help cities cover the pay disparity between a public safety worker's salary and their military pay.
Another area where the cities need assistance, the mayors said, is in protecting private property such as railroads and chemical plants. Cities would bankrupt themselves if forced to continue devoting local resources for that task, O'Malley said. He asked the senators to examine how the federal government could enforce security-minded changes in private companies.