Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Coping with Homeland Security Responsibilities: A "Street-Wise" Perspective from Texas Counties

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Coping with Homeland Security Responsibilities: A "Street-Wise" Perspective from Texas Counties

Article excerpt


"What is the optimal division of responsibilities across different levels of government?" (Gruber, 2005: 251). This is a question that has faced public officials in the national and sub-national governments since the Founding. This exploratory study addresses a critical iteration of that topic in our nation's recent history: How are county governments coping with the increased costs and responsibilities incurred under the collective heading of Homeland Security (1) (hereinafter, HS)? The tragic events of September 11, 2001 and subsequent natural disasters (Hurricanes Wilma and Katrina) have heightened concern regarding the how the federal government and its political subdivisions divide the financing and conduct of HS activities. There is widespread agreement, for example, that HS "is a fundamental responsibility of the central government ..."(Eisinger, 2006: 537), but recognition that the prevention and mitigation of terrorist events require close cooperation of governments at all levels given their local and regional impact (Austin, 2006; Clovis, 2006).

The purpose of this study is to provide guidance on how county officials perceive the impact of homeland security on their county government. Is this related to the perceived risk of the city for a terrorist attack or other factors that come into play for the local government? This study also delves into the question of the optimal division of responsibilities across levels of government, which as we will explore is related to risk influencing policy tradeoffs.

This tension is problematic in that the federal government may view state and local actors as potential force multipliers in the Global War Against Terror. State and local actors may view federal involvement as intrusive, leading to the displacement of traditional local functions that deal with the remediation of disasters or acts of terror by those addressed to their prevention (Canada, 2003; Gerber et al., 2005; Gerber, Cohen, and Stewart, 2007).

This study dovetails with prior budgetary studies that put the analysis of tradeoffs at the center of budgetary politics and implementation (Berry & Lowery, 1990; Garand & Hendrick, 1991; Nicholson-Crotty, Theobald, & Wood, 2006). In the seminal work on budget tradeoffs, Berry and Lowery (1990) defines this as occurring when expenditure in one category negatively affects expenditure in another. In this work, we examine homeland security and its impact on county government finances. This is undertaken through the prism of two sets of actors, county judges and treasurers who are principally responsible for homeland security finances in their respective communities.

There is little literature addressing the budgetary tradeoffs inherent in local government homeland security finance. This is problematic since local priorities drive responses to emergency management (Scavo, Kearny, and Kilroy, 2006). Others have addressed municipal officials' commitment to homeland security preparedness and found that administrative capacity was a key to more effective preparedness (Gerber et al., 2005; Gerber, Cohen, and Stewart, 2007). More descriptive research has addressed the coordination issue and what might be termed the disentangling of homeland security roles in a complex federalist system (Kettl, 2003; Waugh and Streib, 2006; Wise, 2006; Reddick, 2007). That said, literature addressing local government financing has been conspicuously absent in this realm and this work is an exploratory investigation of a critical budgetary issue for American local government.

Coordinating HS efforts at all levels has been extraordinarily difficult. Nearly seven years after "9/11," many analysts feel that first responders in most major metropolitan areas are still having serious difficulties linking HS activities across service and geographical boundaries (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2004a; Scardaville and Spencer, 2006; Wise, 2006). …

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