Combating TerrorismObservations on Crosscutting Issues Gao ID: T-NSIAD-98-164 April 23, 1998
The United States is spending billions of dollars each year to combat terrorism, with few guarantees that federal funds are being channeled to the right programs or in the right amounts. Threat and risk assessments could help better target these funds, set priorities, and avoid duplication of effort. The government also needs improved coordination among federal, state, and local agencies. Disagreement exists in the intelligence and scientific communities over the nature of the terrorist threat, particularly the potential for terrorist incidents involving weapons of mass destruction. Although conventional explosives and firearms continue to be the weapons of choice for terrorists, the likelihood that they may use chemical and biological weapons may increase during the coming decade, according to intelligence agencies.
GAO noted that: (1) conventional explosives and firearms continue to be the weapons of choice for terrorists; (2) terrorists are less likely to use chemical and biological weapons than conventional explosives, although the likelihood that they may use chemical and biological materials may increase over the next decade, according to intelligence agencies; (3) more than a decade ago, the Vice President's Task Force on Terrorism highlighted the need for improved, centralized interagency coordination; (4) GAO's work suggests that the government should continue to strive for improved interagency coordination today; (5) the need for effective interagency coordination--both at the federal level and among the federal, state, and local levels--is paramount; (6) the challenges of efficient and effective management and focus for program investments are growing as the terrorism issue draws more attention from Congress and as there are more players and more programs and activities to integrate and coordinate; (7) the United States is spending billions of dollars annually to combat terrorism without assurance that federal funds are focused on the right programs or in the right amounts; (8) as GAO has emphasized in two reports, a critical piece of the equation in decisions about establishing and expanding programs to combat terrorism is an analytically sound threat and risk assessment using valid inputs from the intelligence community and other agencies; (9) threat and risk assessments could help the government make decisions about: (a) how to target investments in combating terrorism and set priorities on the basis of risk; (b) unnecessary program duplication, overlap, and gaps; and (c) correctly sizing individual agencies' levels of effort; and (10) finally, there are different sets of views and an apparent lack of consensus on the threat of terrorism--particularly weapons of mass destruction terrorism.