Legislature’s adviser says state’s homeland security setup is flawed

Despite the widespread attention paid to domestic security since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, California’s homeland safety apparatus is disorganized, has failed to tap into federal dollars and, some cases, neglected to provide detailed reports to lawmakers in a timely way, as ordered.

The critical view by Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill, tucked into her analysis of the 2006-07 state budget bill, said most of the proposals of the Schwarzenegger administration as they relate to homeland security were flawed. “While some of the governor’s proposals have merit, most of the proposals suffer from one or more deficiencies–such as the failure to maximize funds other than the general fund, poorly designed solutions and a failure to follow state IT (information technology) policy.”

Hill recommended that the state’s Office of Homeland Security, which was created by an executive order of former Gov. Gray Davis and which dispenses the lion’s share of $300 million annually in anti-terrorism funds to local governments, be placed under the jurisdiction of the Office of Emergency Services. The OHS also assumes some of the functions of the Office of Criminal Justice Planning, an office that for decades funneled grants to local law enforcement agencies, but which came under criticism in recent years from Hill and others over its fiscal controls.

The OES, with offices in 58 counties and $500 million-plus annual budget, is the state’s principal disaster-response office. Although Hill recommended placing OHS under the OES, she also said the state Office of Homeland Security should be given formal, legal recognition in statute–a procedure that experts say gives it greater budgetary leverage and permanency.

Hill, hired by the Legislature’s ruling party, is the lawmakers’ nonpartisan fiscal adviser. Her analyses are advisory only, but they are read closely by lawmakers of both parties and often serve as blueprints for policy changes. Nothing in Hill’s comments suggests that the state is ill-prepared to handle a terrorist attack or cope with a natural disaster, and most in the Capitol who follow homeland security issues say California is better prepared than other states for a disaster or attack.

But while couched in the cautious language of the bureaucracy, Hill offered a sharply critical assessment of the administration’s handling of homeland security issues. Taken together, her comments reflect lingering problems in the way the state is putting together its homeland security program.

She rejected the Schwarzenegger administration’s plan to have both the state Office of Homeland Security and the Office of Emergency Services as independent agencies reporting directly to the governor.

“Although homeland security and emergency services can be distinguished from one another in some respects, the activities tend to overlap,” she said. “Given the current structure, it is likely that federal grants allocated by OHS have been used for more narrow homeland security purposes than if OES allocated the grants. The OES would be more likely to integrate the federal funds with existing emergency preparedness activities.”

She note that federal grants have restrictions, but they remain California’s principal source of funding for high-priority, emergency preparedness activities. “Yet

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