President Bush is expected to sign the Homeland Security bill this week, creating a Department of Homeland Security and numerous opportunities for universities nationwide.
Colleges and universities will have several chances to receive federal funds, which will aid in financing research projects.
A new Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency will also be able to allocate funds, however, mainly to finance promising projects already well underway. This agency would be able to spend up to $500 million in the 2003 fiscal year for these projects.
In addition to research financing, this department will establish one or more university-based centers for homeland security. According to the proposed bill, “The purpose of this center or centers shall be to establish a coordinated university-based system to enhance the Nation’s homeland security.”
More specifically, this center would train first responders and medical and law enforcement workers, who would be dispatched to handle the immediate fallout from terrorist attacks.
A list of 15 criteria was constructed to help in selecting a university. However, many strongly believe that these criteria were made to unfairly favor Texas A&M University at College Station.
“There are a number of issues surrounding the establishment in Texas, because President Bush is from Texas,” said Ron Bee, senior analyst and director of development and special projects at the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation.
Many also see the criteria favoring this specific university because they were established largely by Congressman Tom Delay, who represents the 22nd District of Texas.
After viewing the extensive list, University of Wisconsin professor Kenneth R. Mayer also stated that the criteria were clearly written suggesting Texas A&M.
In order to be considered, universities must have an affiliation with animal and plant diagnostic laboratories and with Department of Agriculture laboratories or research centers. The university must also have nationally recognized programs in engineering and demonstrate expertise in border transportation and security.
In addition, the bill also states, “The Secretary shall have the discretion to establish such centers and to consider additional criteria as necessary to meet the evolving needs of homeland security.”
However, no talk of actually removing criteria has taken place; instead, talk has centered on possibly adding additional criteria if necessary when selection occurs.
According to Mayer, these criteria obviously limit the universities that can be picked. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology lacks an agriculture school, and the University of Nebraska has no border issues, which automatically eliminates them as possible choices.
However, he also expressed his belief that whether the center is established at Texas A&M or elsewhere has little significance.
According to Mayer, benefits are possible nationwide as well as for the university that is chosen. The center would be a federally funded benefit for Texas A&M, which isn’t a bad thing.
“If the center produces useful reports, then it will be worthwhile,” Mayer said. “It is not going to hurt, and it is not going to make a huge difference.”