DHS plan highlights high-risk areas

State and local governments in areas at higher risk for a terrorist attack could get more funding under a revised formula submitted with President Bush's spending plan for fiscal 2006.

But congressional lawmakers lashed out at the plan yesterday, saying it shortchanges first responders.

Under the Homeland Security Department's proposed spending plan, state and local governments would receive about $3.6 billion for grants, training and technical assistance, which is similar to past spending levels.

As part of that, the Urban Area Security Initiative grant program -- which provides funds to the 50 cities and regions at highest risk for terrorist attacks -- would swell to more than $1 billion, up from the $885 million allocated this year.

State homeland security grants, however, would be reduced from nearly $1.67 billion this year to $1 billion in fiscal 2006.

A proposed initiative called Targeted Infrastructure Protection would provide $600 million in integrated grants to supplement money spent by state, local and regional governments to enhance security at port, railway, mass transit and other critical infrastructure facilities.

Additionally, the Bush administration has proposed funding the Fire Investment and Response Enhancement (FIRE) grant program at $500 million. In the past, Congress has increased the level to nearly $750 million.

However, the proposed $3.6 billion for state and local spending in fiscal 2006 is nearly $630 million less than what was budgeted for fiscal 2004 and about $420 million less than this year's funding.

James Loy, acting secretary of DHS, said during a press conference yesterday that more than $17 billion has been distributed to first responders during the past few years, but the formula needs to be revised. DHS officials want to focus more on vulnerabilities associated with threats "and be much more surgical, if you will," with the funding allocation, Loy said.

"To continue to use a formula with a distribution algorithm that arguably can take money where it is lesser needed, rather than send it to where it is more needed, is something that is corrected with the president's approach to this budget," he said.

In the past few years, first responders have looked to the federal government to help them pay for technology and other needed equipment, as well as overtime. Instead, the Bush administration has also proposed cutting popular first responder grant programs in other agencies, such as the Justice Department.

Two such law enforcement grant programs are the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and Byrne Justice Assistance programs. Eliminating them would save $940 million next year, including $305 earmarked for technology assistance, according to the administration.

Members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee criticized the administration's proposed budget for failing to support first responders.

"I am shocked and troubled that, once again, the administration is seeking to slash vital funds to equip and empower our nation's first responders, reducing them to second-rate status," said Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) in a statement.

"This is the second straight year the administration has sought large cuts in this assistance, which forms the backbone of most states' homeland security effort," he said. "Worse, this cut comes on top of proposed cuts in other vital programs for first responders, such as the [COPS] program and the FIRE Act grants."

In a prepared statement, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she is "very concerned that the administration has proposed more funds for the country's biggest cities at the expense of the priority programs that states and localities have developed to ensure essential levels of preparedness."

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