Cox proposes faster funding for responders

Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, last week introduced a bill that would streamline and expedite what critics describe as a cumbersome process for getting homeland security funds to first responders.

H.R. 3266 — also called the Faster and Smarter Funding For First Responders Act — essentially would reduce a 12-step grant, reducing the process to two steps. It would allow states and regions to apply for grants, which would be awarded based on the greatest threat to an area rather than a population-based formula.

More than a month ago, Cox and other government officials and homeland security experts complained that the grant process was fragmented and the formulas were "complicated and eccentric" because they were built for political needs.

"Thus the grant formula for fighting fires now serves double duty for homeland security," he told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee Sept. 3. "But this and other such formulas have nothing to do with objective measurements of the relative risk of terrorist attacks. Inserting intelligence into the equation for our emergency responders is where [Congress] can and should exert its influence."

Cox's bill doesn't touch federal grants — which are specifically identified in the bill — existing prior to Sept. 11, 2001, that already help local law enforcement, firefighters, ports, emergency medical services or public health missions. It does affect homeland security grant programs after that date.

Under the bill, funds could be used for buying new or upgrading existing equipment and training on it, as well as training and exercises related to prevention and emergency preparedness. Funds cannot be used to construct buildings. The Homeland Security Department's Office of State and Local Coordination would administer the funds.

Applicants would have to provide information on how the money would be used, beneficiaries, applicable mutual aid agreements, descriptions of the threat posed and a statement explaining why the grant would not be a traditional first responder mission.

Recipients, who would have to match 25 percent of the funds received, must pass 80 percent of the funds to local governments, first responders and other local groups specified in the application within 45 days of receipt.

The bill creates an advisory council that will advise Homeland Security officials whether a federal standard is needed for any particular first responder equipment or training. It also proposes to modify the color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System so warnings can be issued in specific geographical areas based on intelligence on the specific threat conditions.

In late September, Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas), ranking member on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, proposed H.R. 3158, a bill called the Preparing America to Respond Effectively Act of 2003. The proposed legislation would determine first responder needs and base future funding on those priorities, revise the color coded threat system, provide interoperable communications for first responders, and require equipment and training standards be established.

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