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The Issues: Homeland Security

CBS News continues an election-year series titled "What Does It Mean To You?" focused on where the presidential candidates stand on major issues and how a vote for one or the other candidate might affect average people's lives.

In this report, CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr looks at what George W. Bush and John Kerry would do about homeland security.

Just moments after the Pentagon was hit on 9/11, Jim Schwartz commanded the front lines of the rescue operation.

Three years later, the Arlington, Virginia fire chief is focused on the next attack, worried that politics may be getting in the way of preparing America's firefighters.

Money is one problem: not enough is going to those cities facing the greatest threats.

"We need to do some accurate assessments," Schwartz says.

"When you have places like New York, that are getting funding to the tune of about $2 per capita, while some states out west are seeing $30-$40 per capita, something has to be adjusted there."

Arlington, just across the river from Washington, D.C., has received about a $1.5 million in homeland security grants to buy new equipment and pay for additional training and drills.

But in some cases there are strings attached.

"We are not allowed to spend homeland security funds on people, the bodies that are necessary to really expand our capabilities," says Schwartz.

The presidential candidates have struggled to separate themselves on the key homeland security issue.

Democrat John Kerry promises to hire 100,000 new firefighters, restore funding for additional police and make sure first responders have the equipment to do the job.

Kerry says he wants to make sure "local firefighters and other first defenders don't have to settle for the leftovers that sort of filter down through layer upon layer of bureaucracy."

But the Bush campaign claims much has already been done with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security: $2 billion this year for firefighters and $146 million more for communications systems.

"We have tripled funding for homeland security and trained half-a-million first responders," says President Bush.

Yet neither candidate has focused on what first responders like Jim Schwartz say is a critical weakness: the lack of a national strategy to assess risk and target resources.

"It's absolutely important," Schwartz says. "The threat, the risk is not the same in all communities."

But, so far, he says, the candidates are talking past key details.

"The politics of the situation has sort of accelerated past any planning that would identify gaps and try to fill those gaps, and has focused more on how we deliver the bucks," says Schwartz.

Political near-sightedness that may leave holes in a uniform front line defense.