Homeland to streamline filing

Department of Homeland Security

The Homeland Security Department is taking steps to streamline how state and local governments and first responders will get federal aid, Secretary Tom Ridge said May 1.

In the past two months, the federal government has approved more than $4 billion for first responders for training, exercises, equipment and planning. But state and local officials say the process to apply for funds is cumbersome and the money isn't getting to police, firefighters and emergency workers quickly enough.

During Ridge's appearance before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, the chairwoman, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), said many state and local officials have complained to her that there are too many homeland security plans to file with different agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Office for Domestic Preparedness, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Many call for officials to answer the same questions.

"Do we need to require so many plans by so many different agencies?" she asked.

"You're absolutely correct," Ridge answered. He said the federal government has to eliminate duplication in the planning process for training, exercises and equipment. He said the ultimate goal is to have state and local officials "submit plans without paper."

Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) asked whether federal money could be used for state and local personnel. Many cities have said they've spent a majority of their own money on overtime costs associated with the raised national threat alerts.

Ridge said state and local governments historically have been responsible for providing public safety, and the federal government shouldn't be involved in hiring police and firefighters. But "I think overtime costs related to enhanced security at the direction of the federal government should be an eligible cost," he said.

Ridge said the most important challenge is to get everybody — Congress, the Bush administration, governors, mayors and other officials — on the same page: "I just think that if we can work together here at the national level and say to our friends out there: 'You're going to get the dollars and we'll assure that you'll get them in a timely way, but they are federal dollars. We just want to make sure that they're spent according to a plan.' I don't think that's too much ask."

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