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Back to Archives | Back to November 2006 Contents 

Legislative Alert

Congress Clears Homeland Security Funding Bill before Election Recess

Jennifer Boyter

efore leaving for a pre-election recess, the House and Senate both approved the conference report for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill. The bill (H.R. 5441)will decrease total funding for the three primary assistance programs from which law enforcement agencies are eligible to obtain funds: the State Homeland Security Grant program (SHSG),the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program (LETPP), and the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI).

The bill will provide $525 million for the SHSG program, down $25 million (4.5 percent)from last year. These funds are distributed to the states on a formula basis; 80 percent of the funds must be passed on to local governments. These funds are not designated solely for law enforcementuse but can be used to fund a wide range of other public safety agencies like fire departments and EMS who have responsibilities related to preparing or responding to terrorist attacks. The conference report makes no changes to the existing distribution formulas.

The bill will cut funding for LETPP by $25million, from $400 million in fiscal year 2006 to $375 million (6.5 percent). The administration’s budget proposed eliminating funding for the program.

The UASI program will receive a slight increase, from $765 million in fiscal year 2006 to $770 million in fiscal year 2007. The UASI program allocates funds to urban areas selected by the Department of Homeland Security based on a formula that takes into account factors such as critical infrastructure, population density, and credible threat information. It is important to note that most law enforcement agencies are ineligible to receive funds under the urban area grant program and will be forced to compete for funding assistance from a smaller pool of money.

Combined, the three primary assistance programs will receive $1.670 billion, a decrease of $45 million (2.6 percent) from fiscal year 2006. It continues a downward trend over the past five years in funding for these crucial programs. For example, the funding levels represent a cut of almost 50 percent from just three years ago, when these programs received more than $3 billion in funding.

The conference report also includes language to overhaul the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The provisions will keep the
agency in the Homeland Security Department but give it a more autonomous status. It also will give the agency’s director greater power to report to the president, a role that the provision’s
proponents have compared to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The bill will also give FEMA control of both disaster response and emergency preparedness, which were separated by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff last year during a reorganization of the agency.

The IACP strongly objects to some of the provisions included in the conference report, because we believe that it not only fails to adequately address the critical importance of terrorism prevention, but it also has the potential to weaken the capabilities our nation’s state and local law enforcement agencies. Specifically, the IACP was greatly troubled by the failure to include the Office for the Prevention of Terrorism (OPT) in this legislation. The creation of OPT was critical to the state and local law enforcement community and was designed to address many of our current concerns with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and our nation’s terrorism preventions efforts.

The OPT would have been responsible for(1) ensuring that homeland security grants are adequately focused on terrorism prevention, (2)
developing improved methods for intelligence sharing between federal, state, and local law enforcement, (3) enhancing the coordination between the federal, state, and local agencies
involved in terrorism prevention activities, (4) serving as a liaison between state and local law enforcement and DHS, and (5) coordinating the development of national standards for training
and personal protective equipment for law enforcement officers. It is the IACP’s belief that the failure to establish the OPT will undermine efforts to improve our nation’s security and further hinder the terrorism prevention efforts of state and local law enforcement agencies.

In addition, the IACP is greatly concerned that the legislation appears to direct law enforcement and terrorism prevention funds through the Federal Emergency Management Agency(FEMA), an agency managed by individuals who by training and experience are primarily focused on response and recovery efforts, not prevention.

Unlike others in the public safety and emergency response communities, law enforcement officials have a dual responsibility. We understand and accept that it is the responsibility of police agencies to be the first to arrive at the scene of a crime, an accident, or a terrorist attack. But we also know that it is our primary responsibility to prevent these events from happening in
the first place. As a result, the IACP believes that the prevention of terrorist attacks must be the paramount priority in any national, state, tribal, or local homeland security strategy.

Unfortunately, this legislation, by providing FEMA with control over federal assistance grants and training programs designated for prevention efforts, fails to focus on the importance of improving the ability of law enforcement and other security agencies to identify, investigate, and apprehend suspected terrorists before they
can strike.

The conference report also contains provisions of a House-passed bill (H.R. 5013) that is designed to guarantee that lawful gun owners would be allowed to keep their firearms during major
disasters, such as hurricanes or following terrorist attacks. The IACP opposed this legislation. The provisions would prohibit federal, state,or local authorities, during the response to an
emergency situation, from temporarily or permanently seizing any lawful firearm from citizens in the affected area. It will not force a rescue worker to allow a lawfully possessed firearm onboard a
rescue vehicle, such as a boat or helicopter, and also specifies that the bill would not supersede existing state and local prohibitions.

The limitations apply to federal law enforcement or military officers, along with local police that receive federal funds. The provisions would also institute a private cause of action against any
agency or officer who seized lawful weapons in an emergency situation. Consequently, law enforcement agencies and officers would be held personally liable if they mistakenly confiscate a lawful firearm during an emergency.

Opponents, including the IACP, argued that the bill could make it harder for law enforcement officials to maintain order during a crisis. For example, the bill would prevent police from picking up guns that could be seized by looters and would also prevent state or local governments from prohibiting individuals from bringing firearms into emergency shelters.



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 11, November 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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