GAO to locals: Should have foreseen delays

DHS inspector general report

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Local officials shouldn't be surprised by delays in getting federal funds for first responders because the guidelines governing grants have been around for awhile, General Accounting Office officials say.

Many evaluations and reports, including one released last month by the Homeland Security Department inspector general, have found that federal funding for first responders most often gets hung up between the state and local levels. The DHS inspector general also reported that states are meeting the deadlines for transferring money in part by counting funds as transferred at the time of allocation instead of the time of actual transfer.

GAO officials are conducting several evaluations into first-responder funding issues, and their findings indicate that legal and policy barriers often cause the delays. In one state that GAO reviewed recently, state officials notified a city that its grant funding was available on July 17, 2003, but the city council did not vote to accept the funds until Nov. 7, 2003, William Jenkins, director of homeland security and justice issues at GAO, testified today before a House subcommittee.

Many of those barriers have existed for years to ensure that money is spent as effectively as possible, Jenkins said. Maintaining a balance between quickly distributing grant money to first responders and planning for effective use of those funds is a major challenge that officials should have expected, he said.

"The evidence available suggests that the process is becoming more efficient and that all levels of government are discovering and institutionalizing ways to streamline the grant distribution system," Jenkins said. That improvement, however, will not continue unless federal, state and local officials keep pushing for it, he said.

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