NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Coordinating Response To Terrorism

June 30, 2000

Federal officials are debating how best to respond in the event of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. They are far from agreeing on which agency should be responsible for planning and response, or how much should be spent.

  • While state and local officials have initial responsibility to respond to a terrorist event, an array of federal agencies can get involved when events overwhelm state and local capabilities.
  • Among the agencies with a role in planning and response are the FBI, the Pentagon, the Energy Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
  • The General Accounting Office warned lawmakers in April that federal officials "have used and are still using improbable 'worst-case scenarios' to plan and develop programs," adding that some agency initiatives "appear at odds" with the threat assessments of the intelligence community.

The federal government has already spent millions of dollars on joint response plans and exercises -- including a $3.5 million drill last month in Denver and Portsmouth, N.H. In that drill, FEMA and the FBI coordinated federal action.

The National Commission on Terrorism has proposed that the Pentagon be the lead agency for responding to attacks. But even the commission conceded that the Department of Defense "is not optimally organized to respond to the wide range of missions that would likely arise from the threat of a catastrophic terrorist attack."

Source: Peter Eisler, "Strategy Complicated by Jumble of Agencies," USA Today, June 30, 2000.


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