n October 7, the Senate approved the conference report for the Homeland Security fiscal year 2006 funding bill (H.R. 2360), sending the bill to the president for his signature. The House had approved the $31.9 billion bill one day earlier.
The bill is heavily focused on border protection, with more than one-third of the funding going to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.
Under the bill, first responders would again face cuts in federal homeland security grants, continuing a trend over the last three years. The bill includes $1.715 billion for the three primary assistance programs from which law enforcement agencies are eligible to obtain funds: the State Homeland Security Grant (SHSG) program, the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention program (LETPP), and the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI). This is down more than 28 percent from fiscal year 2005, and 44 percent from fiscal year 2004.
Specifically, the bill provides for a massive 50 percent cut in funding for the SHSG program, which is distributed to the states on a formula basis, 80 percent of which must be passed on to local governments.
These funds are not designated solely for law enforcement use but can be used to fund a wide range of other public safety agencies, such as fire departments and EMS agencies, who have responsibilities related to preparing for or responding to a terrorist attack. The bill provides just $550 million for the program, down from $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2005 and $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2006 (a 68 percent cut in just two years).
The bill also contains a 13 percent cut in funding for the Urban Area Security Initiative, from $885 million in fiscal year 2005 to $765 million in fiscal year 2006. This 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.
Most law enforcement agencies are not eligible to receive funds under the urban area grant program and will be forced to compete for funding assistance from a much smaller pool of money.
Unfortunately, House and Senate conferees removed a provision in the Senate version that would have guaranteed that, at a minimum, 25 percent of homeland security grant dollars would be walled off for terrorism prevention programs.
Conferees also removed an earmark that would have reserved at least 10 percent of the SHSG and UASI programs for emergency medical service providers, further reducing the funding available to law enforcement.
The bill keeps funding for the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program at $400 million, the same amount the program received in fiscal year 2005.
In addition, the bill also facilitates a Homeland Security reorganization plan that creates a new preparedness directorate in the department to consolidate preparedness functions into one division.
The bill also makes a major shift in how homeland security funds are distributed to first responders. Funds will now be distributed under a formula that is based less on population and more on risk. Specifically, the minimum funding each state would get under the SHSG and the LETTP program would stay the same at 0.75 percent of the available funding. But the rest would be distributed based on risk, at the discretion of the Homeland Security Department.
This was a compromise position between competing House and Senate proposals. The bill passed by the House, authored by former Homeland Security Committee Chairman Christopher Cox, a California Republican who is now chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, would have based funding decisions more heavily on risk, with just a 0.25 percent state minimum. The proposal passed by the Senate, sponsored by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ranking Member Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut) would have guaranteed states 0.55 percent, and contained more protections for smaller and rural states.
An analysis by the House Homeland Security Committee estimates that 78.4 percent of funding would be distributed by risk under the new formula, with the remaining 21.6 percent distributed under the state minimums. This compares to a distribution by risk of 83.5 percent under the House proposal and 60.7 percent under the Senate plan.
The formula change, coupled with the large cuts to the SHSG program, will result in an increase in grant funding to large, urban areas and decreased funding to rural areas and small states. A much larger proportion of total first responder funding is now being directed to large urban areas, with almost 45 percent of total funding for first responders directed to the UASI program.
Although the new distribution formula applies only to fiscal year 2006 funding, it could set a precedent that would be copied in future years. Nevertheless, Senators and House members who have been working to change the formula said that negotiations on a permanent formula change would continue. ■