First responders are a crucial link in any
effective homeland security policy. To meet the demands of the
terrorist threat, a major investment is necessary to train and
equip police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and the
public health community.
year, President George W. Bush proposed the First Responder
Initiative to meet the needs of this vital community. However, Congress has
greatly weakened this important proposal in recent months by
misallocating most of the funds intended for the program and
repeatedly limiting the reforms necessary for the program to
achieve maximum success.
a new debate is emerging over whether or not funding levels should
be increased to levels dramatically higher than the President's
proposal. However, any increase at this point would be premature.
Instead, Congress should:
- Transfer funds Congress appropriated for
law enforcement as part of the Community Oriented Policing Services
(COPS) and other programs in the fiscal year (FY) 2003 omnibus
budget bill to the Office of Domestic Preparedness in the
Department of Homeland Security (DHS), consolidating them into one
flexible program run by the DHS.
- Require the DHS to re-evaluate the funding
level for the consolidated grant program and report to Congress in
six months and annually thereafter.
his FY 2004 budget request, President Bush asked Congress for $3.5
billion in grants for the Department of Homeland Security to
deliver to state and local responders. This was the same amount he
requested as part of his First Responder Initiative in FY 2003.
However, when Congress passed the omnibus
appropriations bill (H.J. Res. 2) on February 13, 2003, the $3.5
billion was divided between $2 billion for domestic preparedness
and $1.5 billion to law enforcement as part of established, but
grants managed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for traditional
policing purposes. In addition, Congress micromanaged how the
domestic preparedness funds could be spent instead of giving
Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge the flexibility to meet
the varying needs of America's states and cities. This rigidity
will dramatically reduce the effectiveness of the funds.
Despite these inefficiencies, and with the
ink barely dry on the FY 2003 budget, many in Congress are calling
for more. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) recently called for an
additional $7.5 billion, while Senate Majority Leader Thomas
Daschle (D-SD) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) argued
for another $5 billion.
are members of Congress alone at the feeding trough. Numerous
national lobbying organizations have jumped on the "more is better"
bandwagon. The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF)
has called for over $3 billion in additional funding,
all--predictably--for firefighters. In fact, most of the IAFF's
request would be earmarked to hire new firefighters. Other interest
groups have forged similar requests. For example, the National
League of Cities has requested an additional $7 billion, and the
National Conference of State Legislatures is seeking an increase of
While meeting the needs of first
responders is crucial, the federal government cannot fund all of
these requests, nor should it. All levels of government must share
the responsibility of improving preparedness. States, counties, and
cities should bear most of the burden for meeting day-to-day needs
such as hiring new staff and procuring basic equipment such as fire
trucks and police cruisers.
federal government's role should be primarily to promote a holistic
approach to domestic preparedness through planning, training, and
procurement designed to improve responders' abilities to respond to
all hazards, whether terrorist, natural, or man-made, while
promoting interoperabil-ity. The federal government also has a
unique role in providing specialized training and equipment
necessary for responding to the unique circumstances of some
potential terrorist incidents, particularly attacks involving
weapons of mass destruction.
in these areas, however, not every locality should receive funding
for every kind of training and every type of specialized equipment.
Instead, the Administration should focus on promoting mutual
assistance agreements and interoperability so that localities can
pool their specialized resources to provide an effective response
without wasting state, local, and federal funds on redundant
President's request for $3.5 billion in first responder grants set
a benchmark for evaluating the program's funding levels. While it
is difficult to predict how this tenfold increase from pre-9/11
levels will affect the first responder community, one thing is
clear: Additional reform of how the government provides domestic
preparedness grants to the local level would allow that money to be
spent better at the local level.
Consolidate Domestic Preparedness
While Congress has yet to begin working on
the FY 2004 request, the $3.5 billion that Congress appropriated
for FY 2003 is not the same $3.5 billion President Bush requested.
When he delivered his FY 2003 budget to Congress last February, the
hallmark of his First Responder Initiative was not the dramatic
increase in funding from $300 million to $3.5 billion, but the
consolidation of all federal homeland security grants to first
responders into one program managed by the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA), designed to meet the differing needs of
the states receiving those grants. To pay for this initiative, the
President proposed eliminating a number of underperforming law
enforcement programs such as COPS.
First Responder Initiative was a radical proposal because over half
a dozen federal agencies maintained grant and training programs
designed to teach first responders the necessary skills to respond
to terrorism, and the homes of these programs in many cases were
determined more by politics than by necessity. Indeed, the diversification of first
responder assistance programs had become so bad that the third
annual report of the Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response
Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction
(the Gilmore Commission), transmitted to the President and Congress
in December 2001, noted that it placed a "significant
administrative burden" on first responders. Similarly, the U.S. General Accounting
Office noted in 1999 that multiple programs "were causing
frustration and confusion at the local level."
Despite overwhelming recognition that
numerous parallel programs reduced the effectiveness of federal
first responder assistance, Congress failed to consolidate these
programs. From February to June 2002, Congress did not act on the
President's First Responder Initiative. When the President included
a revamped version in his first DHS budget, Congress altered it by
placing the program in the Border and Transportation Security
Directorate in order to appease law enforcement lobbyists who did
not want to share the same trough with other first responders. The
Directorate's Office of Domestic Preparedness will direct and
supervise all terrorism preparedness grants except those in the Department of
Health and Human Services and will absorb the functions of FEMA's
Office of National Preparedness.
Likewise, when finally passing the FY 2003
budget, a year after the President's initial request, Congress
sliced up the funding, allocating the vast majority to fire grants.
As a result, of the $3.5 billion Congress appropriated for first
responders, only $1 billion was left undedicated to the President's
agenda, $1 billion was earmarked for specific purposes, and the
remaining $1.5 billion was allocated to COPS and other DOJ
More Money and More of the Status Quo
Congress's failure to pass the FY 2003
budget until four months after the end of FY 2002 has delayed the
distribution of the President's increase. Combined with an
insufficient reform of the grant-giving process, it is too early
for a full evaluation of whether $3.5 billion is sufficient to meet
the needs of America's first responders. Indeed, the requests of
various lobbying groups do not justify the proposed dramatic
While President Bush has shown a
commitment to increasing the federal homeland security budget when
necessary, he has also demonstrated a commitment to do so
prudently. For example, the Administration's Transportation
Security Administration budget for FY 2004 includes a reduction of
$685 million from FY 2003 because the FY 2003 budget included
one-time start-up costs. Congress should also adopt this prudent
approach in determining how best to fund first responders.
Step 1: Complete the Consolidation
federal grants designed to assist first responders in preparing for
disasters--terrorist, natural, or man-made--should be consolidated
into a single, flexible program in the Department of Homeland
Security, which is now the lead agency for the federal response to
Secretary Ridge should manage this consolidated grant program
through the Office of State and Local Government Coordination
(OSLGC), which will have the most direct interaction with local
governments. Existing specialized domestic preparedness grants,
whether under DHS or other federal agencies, should be
consolidated domestic preparedness grant program should provide
assistance to first responders for planning, procuring equipment,
and training. However, Congress should not micromanage how much the
DHS can spend in each area. Instead, the OSLGC should be free to
provide funds based on a state's needs.
order to receive funds, states should be required to submit an
application to the DHS that includes an all-hazards response plan
featuring mutual assistance agreements among local communities and
promoting interoperability of equipment and procedures. Funds
should then be distributed through the state governors' offices
consistent with such plans. However, the federal government should
require that the majority of funds be transferred expeditiously to
the local level.
Step 2: Establish a Continuous Review
Congress should direct the DHS's Office of
State and Local Government Coordination to evaluate the current
$3.5 billion spending level six months after all domestic
preparedness grants are consolidated into one program and report to
Congress whether or not the needs of America's states and
communities are being adequately met and, if not, where the
deficiencies are. Since meeting the needs of first responders will
require an ongoing commitment, the DHS should repeat this process
every year thereafter.
Congress's top priority in supporting
first responders should be reforming and consolidating existing,
underperforming grant programs to provide the maximum benefit at
the least cost. Consolidating existing programs into a flexible
grant regime designed to meet the unique needs of the various
states while promoting an all-hazards approach, mutual assistance
agreements, and interoperability is crucial. Until such reform is
enacted and evaluated, Congress should not authorize any increase
in grant funds.
Scardaville is Policy Analyst for Homeland Security in the
Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies
at The Heritage Foundation.