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Byrd's $15 B defense plan shot down

by John G. Miller

MANAGING EDITOR

CLARKSBURG -- Money that would help pay for improved homeland security across the country is desperately needed, according to area emergency services officials.

But it won't be coming anytime soon.

The $15 billion homeland defense package supported by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., failed Wednesday after procedural moves by Senate Republicans forced the need for 60 votes for passage.

The package was part of a Democrat-supported bill designed to shore up the economy and increase spending on domestic security. With Wednesday's action, the bill is likely headed to negotiations.

Byrd's provision would have provided money for programs he said are essential to national security -- $4 billion for bioterrorism response, $2 billion for local and state law enforcement antiterrorism training, $1.1 billion for increased border security and more than $3 billion for airport, railroad and mass transit security improvements.

Those opposed to the bill have indicated they believe the funding can wait until next year, an argument staunchly opposed by Byrd.

"We cannot wait until there is an attack of a nuclear facility, our mass transit systems, or our food supply before we act," Byrd said. "We have to take preventive steps now -- before an attack kills more of our innocent citizens. We must anticipate our vulnerabilities, not wait for them to be shown to us on CNN."

Area emergency response officials agree that their departments are ill-prepared for the current threat and believe that is the case for much of the country.

Clarksburg Fire Chief Joe Gonzalez said that any efforts his department has been able to afford are simply "Band-Aids" on a much more serious problem.

"Municipalities, counties and states don't have the funding to pay for the type of equipment and training necessary to battle these threats," Gonzalez said.

"It's high time the federal government steps up and pays for improved front-line defense," he said.

He said he was disappointed that Congress "would quibble over this bill when it provides much of what is needed to protect our citizens."

Harrison-Clarksburg Health Department Administrator Randy Moodispaugh also said health departments don't have the necessary resources to handle bioterrorism threats.

"We've heard a lot of talk, but so far no positive steps have been taken to improve the situation," he said.

Bridgeport Police Chief Jack Clayton said the area is woefully unprepared even with some of the basics, like communications equipment. He said area departments have difficulty working together because none has the same communications systems.

He's also concerned because part of Byrd's package would have provided money to pay for airport security. After Sept. 11, Bridgeport and Harrison County officers were called in for extra duty at the airport, but no federal or state money is available to pay for those costs.

While Wednesday's vote was disappointing, Sen. Byrd's spokesman, Tom Gavin, said Byrd hopes to find other ways to pay for the programs.

"Right now we'll regroup and the Senator will look at other options to provide the funding," Gavin said. "He's not done fighting for this yet."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

John G. Miller can be reached at 626-1473 or by e-mail at jmiller@exponent-telegram.com.

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