Combating Terrorism:

Observations on Growth in Federal Programs

T-NSIAD-99-181: Published: Jun 9, 1999. Publicly Released: Jun 9, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed its prior work and observations on federal efforts to combat terrorism, focusing on: (1) the foreign- and domestic-origin terrorism threats, as GAO understands them from intelligence analyses; (2) the growth in federal programs to provide training and equipment to local first responders--police, fire, and emergency medical services--and the expansion of the federal response elements and teams to deal with a possible chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) terrorist attack; and (3) steps the executive branch has taken to better manage federal efforts to combat terrorism and some opportunities GAO sees for additional focus and direction.

GAO noted that: (1) U.S. intelligence agencies continuously assess both the foreign and domestic terrorist threat to the United States and note that conventional explosives and firearms continue to be the weapons of choice for terrorists; (2) terrorists are less likely to use chemical and biological weapons than conventional explosives, although the possibility that they may use chemical and biological materials may increase over the next decade, according to intelligence agencies; (3) agency officials have noted that terrorist use of nuclear weapons is the least likely scenario, although the consequences could be disastrous; (4) although the intelligence agencies agree on these matters, GAO has observed many conflicting statements and views in public documents and testimony about the CBRN terrorism threat; (5) there is an apparent disconnect between the intelligence agencies' judgments and the focus of certain programs; (6) the number of federal programs and initiatives to combat terrorism have grown significantly; (7) according to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), funding has also increased about $6.5 billion in fiscal year (FY) 1998 to about $10 billion requested for FY 2000; (8) at the same time that the federal government has created several potentially overlapping programs to train and equip local first responders to prepare for possible CBRN terrorist attacks, federal agencies have also expanded the number of federal response teams, capabilities, and assets; (9) the executive branch has taken some important steps toward improving the way it manages and coordinates the growing, complex array of agencies, offices, programs, activities, and capabilities; (10) OMB has issued two governmentwide reports--one in 1998 and one in 1999--on funding levels and programs to combat terrorism; (11) in December 1998, the Attorney General issued a classified 5-year interagency plan on counterterrorism and technology; (12) the Attorney General is also establishing a National Domestic Preparedness Office at the Federal Bureau of Investigation to try to reduce state and local confusion over the many federal training and equipment programs to help them prepare for terrorist incidents involving CBRN weapons; (13) GAO sees opportunities to improve the focus and direction of federal programs and activities to combat terrorism; and (14) a governmentwide strategy that includes a defined end-state and priorities is needed, along with soundly established program requirements based on assessments of the threat and risk of terrorist attack.

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