Mayors say dollars for first responders aren't reaching the local level.
Regional planning and cooperation are the hallmarks of programs in which federal funding for homeland security has been used effectively — but most cities still haven't received federal dollars provided to first responders for homeland security, according to officials at the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
A new study conducted by the USCM, to be released later today, shows that at least 75 percent of cities have not seen money from grants that the Homeland Security Department has already awarded to state and local agencies, said Martin O'Malley, mayor of Baltimore and co-chairman of the organization's Homeland Security Task Force.
DHS Secretary Tom Ridge wants resource allocation based on risk and threat assessments, Hagy said. But states and counties distribute grant money based on population instead of risk and capabilities, said Jane Campbell, mayor of Cleveland and a member of the task force. In some cases, even if the larger city in a particular area does not have the greatest risk, it still has greater resources and expertise than a neighboring small town, she said.
Mayors would like to see more emphasis from DHS on regional efforts that cross cities, counties and states, largely because of the shortfalls faced by smaller cities and towns, said David Wallace, mayor of Sugar Land, Texas and co-chairman of the task force. When a smaller community tries to put its own emergency management structure in place, "there's just not enough funding to get good bang for the buck," he said.
A more comprehensive regional effort may be the solution to getting homeland security funding to where it can do the most good, officials said. States where funding is going where it's needed, such as Florida and Mississippi, have adopted a regional structure, said Patrick McCrory, mayor of Charlotte, N.C., and a member of the President's Homeland Security Advisory Council. The regions must develop a single common assessment and plan, thereby eliminating the normal boundaries of city and county, he said.
He also suggested that the USCM could perform a valuable service by identifying best practices and models, and helping other areas of the country adopt those policies.
DHS has a provision in its fiscal 2004 grants that could force states to pass the money to true first responders if the exchange does not happen within a set period of time, said David Hagy, director for local coordination within the department's Office of State and Local Coordination. But Homeland Security officials hope they won't have to use that provision, and are working with the National Association of Counties to find a better way to overcome the money flow problem, he said.
"What we need to get at is the particulars of the source of the problem," he said.
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