Fairfax, VA - On June 10, the Appropriations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives released a funding bill that will have a significant impact on America's fire service: the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2005. This bill proposes a budget for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the coming fiscal year, including grant funding for first responders for homeland security preparedness and response. The bill also seeks to provide direction to DHS in implementing many programs that directly involve first responders.
Terrorism Preparedness vs. All-Hazards Response
In its written report on the bill, the committee expresses a concern that the Department of Homeland Security is wrongly placing more emphasis on terrorism preparedness than on all-hazards response. The committee is also "deeply concerned at the lack of preparedness standards for first responders."
However, the committee says it is "encouraged" by the issuance of Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8 (HSPD-8), issued in December 2003, which directs the development of a national all-hazards preparedness goal. In its bill, the committee establishes deadlines by which DHS must complete the development of mission essential tasks, provide grant guidance for state baseline assessments and complete a federal response capabilities inventory. The committee also requires quarterly reports on the directive's implementation.
The committee also addresses the National Incident Management System (NIMS). In its report, the committee directs DHS to evaluate the use of regional centers to help with NIMS training, education and publications.
The bill would raise first responder funding in some areas and lower it in others. For example, the committee has proposed reducing funding for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (the FIRE Act) by nearly $150 million from last year's appropriation. The bill would provide no funding for the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Firefighters Act of 2003 (commonly known as SAFER).
Also lowered is the amount of money for preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery, to a little more than $210 million from nearly $224 million in Fiscal Year 2004. This money "provides for the development and maintenance of an integrated, nationwide operational capability to prepare for, mitigate against, respond to, and recover from the consequences of disasters and emergencies, regardless of their cause, in partnership with other federal agencies, state and local governments, volunteer organizations and the private sector." This reduction comes in spite of the committee's stated commitment to an all-hazards preparedness goal.
However, the bill would provide nearly $230 million more for the Urban Area Security Initiative than in Fiscal Year 2004. The bill would also raise the amount of money available for the national exercise program, which includes large-scale federal exercises such as TOPOFF, to $52 million.
The bill would also establish a new appropriation of $50 million for a technology transfer program that would include "a finite set of immediately deployable technologies, such as interoperable communications technology, defensive protective equipment for first responders, vulnerability assessment technology or other basic technology needs." DHS would be directed to provide the appropriate training and technical assistance to first responders to carry out the program.
The committee also recommends $21 million for an interoperability and communications program. This program is based on the committee's recognition that the "ability of the country's first responders to communicate with one another across jurisdictions and disciplines is a long-standing, complex and critical issue facing our nation." The committee allocated no separate money for interoperable communications in Fiscal Year 2004; rather, funds were to come out of the money appropriated for formula-based grants.
The reduction in funding for several first responder programs in this appropriations bill is the result of several factors. Most significant is the increased pressure on appropriators to contain spending in light of the increasing federal budget deficit. This pressure is likely to continue over the next several years. In addition, DHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Harold Rogers (R-KY) has expressed his concern that much federal homeland security grant money appears to be bottlenecked at the state level. Many federal lawmakers believe that state and local governments are not spending federal homeland security funding in an efficient and effective manner. Unfortunately, Chairman Rogers's decision to cut money for the FIRE Act is at odds with these justifications. The FIRE Act is one of the few federal grant programs that goes directly to local governments in a fair and efficient manner, and is used only for the purposes intended. The IAFC will continue to make this point to Senate appropriators.
The next step for this bill is a vote on the floor of the House, on a date that is yet to be determined. The bill is not likely to face challenges on the House floor, meaning it is likely to pass as-is or very close to what the Appropriations Committee has recommended. The U.S. Senate is currently crafting its own funding proposal.
|Competitive Training Grants||$50,000,000||$59,646,000|
|Firefighter Assistance Grants (FIRE Act)||$600,000,000||$745,575,000|
|Interoperability and Communications||$21,000,000||Part of the Formula-|
|Metropolitan Medical Response System||$50,000,000||$50,000,000|
|National Domestic Preparedness Consortium||$130,000,000||$134,204,000|
|National Exercise Program||$52,000,000||$49,705,000|
|Preparedness, Mitigation, Response, and recovery||$210,499,000||$223,673,000|
|Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium||$5,000,000||Program did not exist|
|Technology Transfer||$50,000,000||Program did not exist|
|Urban Area Security Initiative||$1,000,000,000||$771,018,000|