With the presidential campaign and congressional budget battles behind them, it's time for the Bush Administration to focus on something that was tossed aside in the political heat: fighting terrorism. True, the White House and Congress have pledged repeatedly to strengthen counterterrorism efforts. So far, though, they both have failed to match rhetoric with action.
Today, turmoil and turnover rock the upper levels of government, with major changes taking place in the CIA, the State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security. Top State counterterrorism official Cofer Black announced his resignation on election day and swiftly departed without a replacement in sight. Meanwhile, the FBI is still recovering from its mismanagement and lack of computer capability from the Louis Freeh era.
President Bush's reelection campaign focused on the theme of fighting terror overseas. During his recent trip to Canada, the President repeated,"There's only one way to deal with enemies who plot in secret and set out to murder the innocent and the unsuspecting: We must take the fight to them."
Yet rather than fighting with optimal efficiency, both the Administration and Congress have short-changed the fight against terrorists. By scaling down key counterterrorism programs, they weaken the strategic arms that work best.
To cite just one example, the State Department runs a program to train foreign law enforcement officials in combating terrorism. "Antiterrorism Training Assistance" provides a range of courses dealing with airport security, bomb detection, hostage negotiation and, more recently, handling threats of weapons of mass destruction. Foreign personnel trained by the program have thwarted or mitigated the damage from number of attacks. Jordan, a major ATA participant, disrupted attacks planned against American tourists during the December 1999 millennium threat. Successful terrorist attacks in other countries -- such as Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Morocco -- demonstrate the need to expand ATA.
Despite the program's demonstrated success, Congress reduced the Bush Administration's requested allotment for ATA in 2005 by $8 million. The cutback came on top of the White House's Office of Management and Budget initial cut of about 15 percent of the State Department's original request. The OMB has cut State Department requests for the ATA program and related smaller programs an average of 20 percent for the past three regular Bush Administration budgets.
Furthermore, OMB and the Treasury cut IRS requests for additional financial investigators to unravel terrorist money trails. The Treasury's new Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence operates on a shoestring, as does the State Department's unit countering terrorist financing. Meanwhile, Congress funds scores of pork barrel and other less-than-crucial programs.
This month, OMB considers the requests for State and other agencies' counterterrorism programs for the 2006 budget to be presented to Congress in early 2005. If citizens and officials have concerns about priorities reflected in the budget, now is the time to weigh in. White House staffers and congressmen must put their money where their mouths are.