Mayors: Send homeland help

U.S. Conference of Mayors

The Justice Department told the nation's cash-strapped mayors this week that it is holding up the money earmarked to help first responders, a move that could delay efforts to link federal, state and local security systems for homeland security.

In a letter to the mayors, the department blamed the holdup on Congress for failing to pass all but two of the fiscal 2003 funding bills before it adjourned until January. The Justice Department said "it will have to delay the award of funds until the fiscal 2003 appropriations are final."

But the mayors say money already has been earmarked to help local police and firefighters upgrade their systems, and their cities are buckling under the additional demands to provide services they cannot afford.

In a statement, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said the money is already overdue, and cities "have borne the burden of additional security costs since Sept. 11." The decision to delay it even further threatens hundreds of millions of dollars that states and cities have been counting on getting, he said.

"Cities will not receive critically needed assistance for local law enforcement and first responders until Congress and the administration agree on a budget," Menino said. "Nearly 15 months after the attack on America, cities have inexplicably still not received any significant direct first responding funding from Washington."

Costis Toregas, president of Public Technology Inc., said the delay also would hamper the government's ability to share information and interconnect federal, state and local authorities in the event of another terrorist attack.

"Although we do not have comprehensive data yet, anecdotal evidence suggests that the federal buy is the 'glue' that holds many IT initiatives together at the local level. With the imperative to develop seamless systems that connect local and federal systems in a timely manner, this is the worst of times to pull funding that, in many cases, makes the intergovernmental system more effective."

The U.S. Conference of Mayors estimated that cities would spend more than $2.6 billion in additional security costs by the end of 2002. And by holding up an estimated $1.5 billion in law enforcement and antiterrorism assistance allocated by Congress to local police and fire departments, the Justice Department is only making matters worse.

"Creating a Department of Homeland Security without funding our first responders is like building a hospital without hiring doctors or nurses," said Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), who joined the mayors in criticizing the Justice Department's decision.

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