Congress gets tough on grants funding

Lawmakers issued an ultimatum to Bush administration officials to develop basic plans for improving state and local preparations for homeland security or get no grants funding for fiscal 2005

HSPD-8

Lawmakers issued an ultimatum to Bush administration officials: Develop basic plans for improving state and local preparations for homeland security or get no grants funding for fiscal 2005.

Although there is widespread concern that many public safety agencies are not adequately prepared to deal with homeland security, lawmakers are concerned that the administration does not have a clear sense of where more money is needed.

The Homeland Security Department's Office for Domestic Preparedness (ODP) is developing baseline metrics for state and local protection, but officials are not moving fast enough, said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's Homeland Security Subcommittee.

Rogers asked DHS Secretary Tom Ridge to develop those metrics in a Dec. 8, 2003, letter, but he did not receive an answer before the subcommittee started to consider the department's funding. Now, first responders are calling for help, and appropriators want to make sure that money is being spent on equipment and measures that will truly help improve readiness, Rogers said.

"We're not going to move on the '05 submission until we get that," he told ODP Director Suzanne Mencer at a hearing last week on the office's budget request.

ODP officials are working aggressively to determine how to measure preparedness, Mencer said. Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8 requires the office to "establish standards that every state and territory must accomplish," she said.

Those standards and metrics are part of the National Preparedness Goal that Ridge must give the White House through the Homeland Security Council by the time DHS submits its fiscal 2006 budget request.

ODP officials have developed a draft of those metrics and should brief Ridge this week, Mencer said. Rogers said he wants the standards to address protection specifics and not just high-level goals so that "at least we know we are prepared in a minimum way."

Metrics are necessary to determine whether first responders are spending money effectively, but at a national scale, they can't be too specific or "based on a one-size-fits-all philosophy from someone in Washington," said John Cohen, a consultant working with several states on their homeland security strategies.

Baseline capabilities for training are much harder to set, and many state and local agencies are struggling to put employees through training and exercises despite a lack of funds or tight requirements on the use of federal funds, several subcommittee members pointed out.

One common problem that local agencies have encountered is that more specific training, which could help address local requirements, is not included in the allowable expenses when using ODP grants funding, Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) said.

***

Measuring preparedness

National metrics for homeland security readiness are critical to the National Preparedness Goal being developed by the Homeland Security Department.

That program will:

Establish measurable readiness priorities and targets that balance the potential threat and impact of terrorist attacks, major disasters and other emergencies with the resources required to prevent, respond to and recover from them.

Include readiness metrics, standards for preparedness assessments and strategies, and a system for assessing the nation's overall preparedness to respond to major events, especially those involving acts of terrorism.

Source: Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8

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