First responder grant standards, streamlining get congressional attention

In late March, the House Appropriations
Subcommittee on Homeland Security demanded that DHS’s Office of
Domestic Preparedness immediately issue guidelines for states and local
first responders outlining “minimum essential capabilities” the
government expects from them when grants are awarded.

Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) threatened to withhold funding if the standards aren’t issued.

DHS is required to develop a national
all-hazards preparedness strategy under Homeland Security Presidential
Directive 8, signed by President Bush last December. However, DHS is
not required to define the strategy until it submits its budget request
for fiscal year 2006. And that’s too far away, lawmakers say, pointing
to the multitude

of problems DHS is having not only in how it
awards grants, but in ensuring they are being spent wisely and for the
right things.

ODP Director Suzanne Mencer said officials
from her office planned to brief the White House and DHS Secretary Tom
Ridge by the end of the following week, and agreed to provide draft
documents to the committee. Mencer noted that states were required to
submit a homeland security assessment and strategy by the end of
January, although not all states had complied. Thirty-seven plans were
approved by her office. The strategies are designed to assist DHS to
coordinate grant funding.

DHS announced March 15 the appointment of 20
top state and local officials to a panel designed to speed up the flow
of federal terrorism response dollars to local officials.

Chaired by Governor Mitt Romney of
Massachusetts, the panel was created after months of rancorous feuding
between state and local officials over what Ridge in February called a
state-level “logjam” preventing federal funds from reaching community
emergency responders.

Meanwhile, H.R. 3266, “Faster and Smarter
Funding for First Responders,” was unanimously reported out of the
Senate Select Committee on Homeland Security.

The bill would streamline and hasten homeland security grant assistance
to first responders and fund actual needs, according to Rep.
Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Select Committee on
Homeland Security. “The legislation prioritizes terrorism preparedness
funding for homeland security based on actual threat and vulnerability
assessments, rather than political formulas,” Cox said. HST

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