Bush pledges aid to mayors

Text of President Bush's speech on increases in the homeland security budget

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President Bush's proposal to increase homeland security spending to nearly $38 billion for the next fiscal year — almost double what it is now — includes more resources for America's police officers, firefighters and emergency rescue workers.

The announcement came Jan. 24 during a 20-minute White House speech to about 300 mayors. The city leaders have been asking the federal government for more money to help them cope with unprecedented spending on overtime pay, equipment and training since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Of the proposed spending, such first responders would receive about $3.5 billion, a tenfold increase from this year's amount, which Bush termed "necessary money." He also announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would administer first-responder funds.

"Part of our task is to recognize [that] there are 36,000 local jurisdictions all around the country," Bush said. "And how do we make sure there are some standards?... How do we make sure information flows properly? How do we make sure there's mutual aid agreements in the neighborhoods? How do we make sure that the communications equipment and the rescue equipment [are] compatible not only within a state but nationwide? Those are the tasks ahead, and that's part of the challenge we face."

According to White House officials, the first-responder funding will be allocated as follows:

* $105 million would support state and local government planning and preparation for a terrorist attack.

* $2 billion would purchase equipment, including protective gear, chemical and biological weapon detection systems, and interoperable communications devices.

* $1.1 billion would go toward training first responders.

* $245 million would support regular exercises to improve response time, practice mutual aid and assess operations.

After Bush's speech, several mayors reacted enthusiastically to the announcement.

It's a "giant leap in the right direction," said New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, who also is president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (www.usmayors.org), which held its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., this week. The conference shifts to New York City through Jan. 26 for discussions on the economy and a memorial for victims of the terrorist attack.

Although Bush gave no specifics, Morial said it's likely any funding would be used for training, equipment and capacity building. And although there is a "commitment to flexibility" in terms of how the money could be used, he said he didn't know whether any of the funding could be used cover expenses already incurred. He guessed the money would be earmarked for future expenditures.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, which represents cities with populations of more than 30,000, released a survey Jan. 23 projecting that cities nationwide would spend an additional $2.6 billion on security through 2002.

Nationwide, there are more than 1 million firefighters, of which 750,000 are volunteers. Local police departments have 556,000 full-time employees, including 436,000 sworn officers. Sheriff's departments have 291,000 full-time employees, of which 186,000 are sworn officers. And there are more than 155,000 nationally registered emergency medical technicians.

Bush is expected to release his proposed budget in February. The federal government's fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

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