America's war on terrorism consumes at least $7 billion a year, and the figure is rising fast. Yet, government auditors say they can't track much of the money or determine how effective it is.
Last month's deadly embassy bombings in Africa gave new urgency to the anti-terrorism push that has been building throughout President Clinton's second term. In his speech last week to the United Nations, Clinton called on all nations to "put the fight against terrorism at the top of our agenda."It's a popular position in the United States, which endured the bombings of the World Trade Center in 1993, the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995 and Khobar Towers Air Force housing complex in Saudi Arabia in 1996.
Some government auditors and law enforcement officials complain, however, that the anti-terrorism fight is disorganized, with little coordination among agencies.
"More money is being spent to combat terrorism without any assurance of whether it is focused in the right programs or in the right amounts," said Richard Davis, an auditor with the General Accounting Office, the investigative and auditing arm of Congress.
White House and congressional auditors disagree about just what should fall under the heading of counterterrorism spending. But both estimate it's currently just under $7 billion a year, not counting potentially hundreds of millions more dollars to finance classified programs.
"Billions of dollars are being spent by numerous agencies with roles or potential roles in combating terrorism, but because no federal entity has been tasked to collect such information across the government, the specific amount is unknown," the GAO said in its most recent report on terrorism. "Further, no governmentwide spending priorities for the various aspects of combating terrorism have been set."
After that report was published, the Clinton administration established a new national coordinator for domestic security and counterterrorism within the National Security Council.
FBI officials saw that as cutting into the bureau's turf. "It looks like we're all over the map on this," FBI Assistant Director John Lewis said this summer after the initiative was announced.
Just last month, local law enforcement officials complained to Attorney General Janet Reno that efforts against terrorism remain disjointed and duplicative.
Meanwhile, the price keeps rising.