By Jennifer Boyter, IACP Legislative Analyst
In early June, appropriators began writing the fiscal 2005 spending bills. With congressional leaders enforcing a tight election-year budget ceiling, appropriators expect difficulties in getting some of their 13 annual spending bills out of committee.
On June 3, the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee approved a bill to provide fiscal year 2005 funding. Under the bill, police and fire departments would face significant cuts in federal homeland security grants, while aviation security would get a major boost. The issue of how much money is enough for first responders and aviation security is likely to dominate the summer debate over homeland spending.
Overall, the $31.9 billion bill for the Department of Homeland Security would provide $1.6 billion more than fiscal 2004 funding levels but $309 million less than the President's proposed budget.
Specifically, the bill would provide $4.1 billion for a wide range of emergency management, firefighter and terrorism preparedness grants, including the following:
- $1.25 billion for Office of Domestic Preparedness formula grants, a decrease of $450 million (26 percent) from fiscal year 2004.
- $1 billion for grants to high-threat, high-density urban areas, $100 million of which is reserved for rail security. Last year, grants for high-threat urban areas totaled $866 million.
- $125 million for port security grants.
- $600 million for firefighters, down $146 million.
During the full Appropriations Committee markup, the overall budget figure will increase because appropriators plan to transfer $1.2 billion in Coast Guard funding from the defense appropriations bill to the homeland security bill. That will bring the total budget authority in the House homeland security bill to $33.1 billion, $900 million more than the White House requested.
The Transportation Security Administration would receive $4.3 billion for its aviation security operations, an increase of $546 million, or about 15 percent. Most of that new money would be dedicated to doubling the inspections of cargo shipped in passenger airplanes. The bill also includes the following:
- $9.6 billion for border protection and related activities.
- $1.1 billion for science and technology projects.
- $855 million for information analysis and infrastructure protection. These funds will be used to complete an inventory of critical infrastructure, enhance current communications between federal, state, and local homeland security personnel, and assist local communities as they put protective measures in place.
The Senate has yet to schedule a markup for a Department of Homeland Security appropriation bill.
Representative Harold Rogers (R-Kentucky), chairman of the subcommittee, said the first-responder cuts are justified because there are billions of dollars in unspent grant money at the state level. Until that funding is released to local first responders, Rogers said there is no need to put billions more in the pipeline.
The IACP is concerned about the cuts to these crucial grant programs for law enforcement. We will continue to work to ensure that these programs are sufficiently funded.
House Panels Pass Competing
Bills on Grant Formula Changes
In March, the House Homeland Security Committee passed a bill (H.R. 3266) that would change the formulas that govern the distribution of first responder grants. Under the bill, which was introduced by committee chairman Christopher Cox (R-California), money would be distributed to first responders according to the terrorist threat facing each state and community. This change would not affect existing police grant programs such as the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant or Byrne grants.
Under this new formula, some states and localities would receive less money than they do under the current system, in which homeland security grants are distributed according to formulas that guarantee a minimum amount for each state.
As a result, the bill is unpopular with many lawmakers from suburban and rural areas who do not want to lose federal aid for their first responders. Consequently, several other House committees claimed jurisdiction over the legislation. This week, two committees held markups on the bill, with two very different results.
On Wednesday, June 3, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee amended the bill to retain the current formula for distributing the grants. The bill, which would authorize $3.4 billion per year in first responder grants, would guarantee that every state receive at least 0.6 percent of available grant money, or $18.7 million per year.
The bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to set standards for training, equipment, and response plans that cities or counties would have to meet when applying for grants. The standards then would be compared with the threat of terrorism in the jurisdictions applying for the grants and the vulnerability of the critical infrastructure in those areas. In addition, the committee also broadened the bill to allow homeland security grants to be used by states and cities for "all hazards," which would allow the grants to be used to prepare responses to natural disasters.
However, the next day the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the version of the bill already adopted by the Homeland Security Committee. The committee did remove a provision in the bill that would have created a first responder task force to help the Department of Homeland Security needs.
The bill would also require states to disburse 80 percent of their grant money to local governments within 45 days of receipt. Many cities have complained that backlogs of federal funds at the state level are preventing money from reaching first responders.
Next to consider the bill is the House Judiciary Committee, whose chairman, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), has already said that he believes every state should get a minimum amount of funding.
The Rules Committee, which is controlled by House Republican leaders, will ultimately sort out the differences between the versions before sending the bill to the House floor.