Firefighting, Leadership, Legal

$750 Million for FIRE Act 2003 Agreed Upon by Congress

Fairfax, VA – House and Senate congressional conferees have announced an agreement on an omnibus appropriations package for fiscal year 2003. This omnibus package includes $750 million for FIRE Act funding, more than twice the $360 million appropriated for fiscal year 2002.

The House of Representatives and the Senate spent much of last week working through their various disagreements over this massive appropriations bill-which runs more than 1,000 pages and would fund every area of the U.S. government except the Pentagon.

Members of Congress are hoping to push this long overdue appropriations package through Congress before this weekend. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate will need to vote on and approve this omnibus package before it goes to President Bush’s desk where it is expected to be signed into law. It is important to note that the appropriation is not law until it is signed by the President. Once this bill and the FIRE Act funding become law, FEMA will issue a notice in the Federal Register including the details on how the program will be administered.

As Congress wraps up the fiscal year 2003 process they already have begun looking at the figures for fiscal year 2004, which begins Oct. 1, 2003. On Monday, Feb. 3, 2003, President Bush submitted the administration’s budget proposal to Congress for fiscal year 2004. The president’s budget currently proposes $500 million for grants in 2004 under the Assistance to Firefighters grant program (FIRE Act).

The President’s 2004 budget proposal is the first such document to recommend funding the FIRE Act as an independent program. This alone represents a victory for the IAFC and the fire service, who have been urging that the program be kept separate from other grant programs. However, there is no legal authority surrounding the administration’s budget proposal; it is merely the plan for Congress to consider.

The administration’s budget proposal would place the FIRE Act program within the newly created Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The administration proposes that the Office for Domestic Preparedness (ODP) (under the Border and Transportation Security Directorate) administer the 2004 Assistance to Firefighters grant program. ODP was previously part of the Department of Justice before being moved to DHS. For this fiscal year, as in past years, the program is being managed by FEMA, now moving to the new Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate of the DHS.