As the nation marked the six-month anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the new White House Office of Homeland Security continues to develop its agenda for the near future. Several aspects of this effort relate directly to universities.
At a recent meeting of higher education government relations officials in Washington, Sally Canfield, director of policy and plans for the homeland security office, laid out the major areas of initial interest.
The primary focus will be supporting first respondersthose who would be called immediately in any emergency. The Office of Homeland Security hopes to invest $3.5 billion in helping local fire, police and EMT personnel. Canfield said that on Sept. 11 communications on the ground were often overwhelmed by the sheer size of the tragedy.
Canfield said some of the funding will come via grants to the states, where the federal government will match state and local dollars on a three-to-one ratio.
The second area of focus will be defending against bioterrorism. The homeland security office will spend nearly $6 billion to strengthen local and state public health systems, stockpile drugs and pay for research through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Defense labs to develop appropriate antitoxins and other preventative measures.
A third sector will focus on border security, especially along the Canadian border. Here the focus is on using technology, such as biometrics, to secure the borders while facilitating legitimate travel. Much of the work will focus on the Immigration and Naturalization Service. An estimated $11 billion will be spent on this aspect.
Finally, the office will invest in information technology (IT). The federal government spends $50 billion annually on IT but, Canfield said, few of the information systems can communicate with each other. Canfield called the overall federal IT system aging and inadequate, and said millions will be spent to upgrade it. Cybersecurity also will be a major focus of upgrades.
As for universities, Canfield urged them to focus on their own computer network security. She also said universities should assist in resolving immigration issues and in looking at the types of information available on their own Web sites. She said, too, that universities should continue to be sources of public policy discussion as dealing with terrorism is considered.
To read more about the homeland security agenda, visit the Web at www.whitehouse.gov/homeland/homeland_security_book.html.