Combating Terrorism:

Critical Components of a National Strategy to Enhance State and Local Preparedness

GAO-02-548T: Published: Mar 25, 2002. Publicly Released: Mar 25, 2002.

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Federal, state, and local governments share responsibility in preparing for catastrophic terrorist attacks. Because the national security threat is diffuse and the challenge is highly intergovernmental, national policymakers must formulate strategies with a firm understanding of the interests, capacity, and challenges in addressing these issues. Key aspects of this strategy should include a definition and clarification of the appropriate roles and responsibilities of federal, state, and local entities. GAO has found fragmentation and overlap among federal assistance programs. More than 40 federal entities have roles in combating terrorism, and past federal efforts have resulted in a lack of accountability, a lack of cohesive effort, and program duplication. As state and local officials have noted, this situation has led to confusion, making it difficult to identify available federal preparedness resources and effectively partner with the federal government. Goals and performance measures should be established to guide the nation's preparedness efforts. For the nation's preparedness programs, however, outcomes have yet to be defined in terms of domestic preparedness. Given the recent and proposed increases in preparedness funding, real and meaningful improvements in preparedness and establishing clear goals and performance measures are critical to ensuring a successful and a fiscally responsible effort. The strategy should include a careful choice of the most appropriate tools of government to best achieve national goals. The choice and design of policy tools, such as grants, regulations, and partnerships, can enhance the government's capacity to (1) target areas of highest risk to better ensure that scarce federal resources address the most pressing needs, (2) promote shared responsibility by all parties, and (3) track and assess progress toward achieving national goals.

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