House and Senate conferees of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have voted to fund the Assistance to Firefighters grant program (FIRE Act) at $750 million and to move it from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) to the Office for Domestic Preparedness (ODP).
“The most important goal of the IAFC was to maintain a separate and distinct program and funding for the FIRE grants. We want to ensure that vital federal assistance expeditiously reaches fire departments for the purposes intended,” stated Chief Ernest Mitchell, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. “This key goal has been met and the FIRE Grant program will continue to provide vital assistance to the nation’s fire departments as we prepare for terrorism, weapons of mass destruction emergencies, fires and disasters.”
The conference report accompanying the bill contains several provisions of interest to the leadership of the fire service:
–The FIRE grants are to remain a separate appropriation within ODP;
–USFA must remain involved during grant administration;
–DHS was instructed that it must continue current administrative practices for the grant program;
–The peer review process of applications remains;
–Overall administrative expenses for the grant program at DHS shall not exceed 5 percent, as is current practice; and
–The funds will be available until September 30, 2005.
The subcommittee must complete its conference and the full committee must approve. The bill then goes to both houses of Congress for concurrence and then to the president for signature into law. We do not foresee any changes in the provision regarding the FIRE Act.
“The members of the IAFC and many others in the fire service responded to our action call with thousands of letters to the President and members of Congress and the effort was successful,” noted Chief Mitchell.
Garry Briese, executive director of the IAFC, said, “We have made our concerns known and fought to keep it in the USFA. Now that a decision has been made to move the grant program to ODP, we will support ODP at the same level as we have the USFA with this program. We are very pleased that Congress has determined to keep the USFA involved in the fire grant process. We have completed several significant terrorism initiatives with ODP in the past, have worked closely with USFA and look forward to continuing and building our relationship with both of them. The fact that the program is managed by a different agency at DHS should not detract from the efficiency of the program.”
Ms. Suzanne Mencer is the president’s nominee to become director of the Office for Domestic Preparedness. During this week’s Senate confirmation hearing, she responded to a question from the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee about consolidation of the FIRE Act within ODP by saying, “I believe that the Office for Domestic Preparedness will always strive to provide assistance to our nation’s emergency response community in the most efficient and effective manner. It is also my understanding that preliminary planning between ODP and FEMA has concluded the FIRE Act should be administered as it has in the past. If I am confirmed by the Senate, I will make every effort to ensure that ODP continues to work effectively with our nation’s emergency responders.”