Ridge pledges more anti-terror funds

Homeland chief promises more funds in the coming year for police and firefighters

Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge acknowledged March 3 that there isn't nearly enough money in the fiscal 2003 budget to help first responders fight terrorism, but he promised more funds in the coming year for police and firefighters across the country.

Although President Bush requested $3.5 billion — which didn't come through — in the fiscal 2003 budget and another $3.5 billion in fiscal 2004, "unfortunately, there's not as much exclusive terrorism-related money as we had hoped," Ridge said in a speech to the National Association of Counties in Washington, D.C.

"In the end, some of these dollars were deflected to other priorities. To the extent that we can use the flexibility that Congress gave us around those programs to shift some of them back specifically to counterterrorism spending, we're going to do that," Ridge said.

Nevertheless, Ridge said there is $1 billion for state and local governments in the fiscal 2003 budget to help finance anti-terrorism programs. And there is some money in other programs to help local governments train and equip their first responders. The information technology component of first responders' needs includes interoperable communications equipment.

Ridge made his comments following a drumbeat of criticism from Democrats, governors and state and local officials who complained that an infusion of more money is needed to help bolster security at home.

Ridge promised to help find more money, and he said he intends to let individual governors know that they have leftover funds in federal accounts from 2001 and 2002 that they can use for anti-terrorism programs.

"We've seen a little bit of money out there. It was authorized and appropriated," he said. "We're going to drive that out to you as quickly as possible."

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