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Homeland Security

Statement of Susan M. Collins

Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs

"Investing in Homeland Security, Challenges on the Front Line"

April, 09 2003

Today, the Committee begins a series of hearings on how the federal government can best help our states, communities, and first responders protect our homeland. Last year, the Senate spent nearly three months on the Homeland Security Act, yet the law contains virtually no guidance on how the Department is to assist state and local governments and first responders with their homeland security needs. In fact, the 187-page Homeland Security Act mentions the issue of grants to first responders in but a single paragraph. There is no guidance on how federal dollars should be spent or how much money should be allocated to whom. Those decisions were left for another day. Today is that day.

As we embark on this effort to improve homeland security grant programs, there is no more important group to hear from than our first responders who serve on the front lines protecting our communities. When disaster strikes, it is our police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel who answer the calls for help.

We must invest in additional homeland security resources for our first responders. Just as our first responders stand by to protect our communities, they deserve a federal government that stands by them.

The current structure of “one size fits all” homeland security programs, however, is not doing the job. The needs of our states and their first responders vary widely and are as diverse as the people who live there. We must make sure that federal assistance is sufficiently flexible to meet these differing needs.

When I met with Maine’s emergency management officials a few weeks ago, they told me that the structure of many homeland security grant programs hinders their efforts to help first responders secure communities across Maine.

As you can see from this chart, the current homeland security grant program administered by the Office of Domestic Preparedness, or “ODP”, is part of the problem. ODP provides funding for training, equipment, exercises, and planning based on a uniform, predetermined formula for every state. That sounds good, but let’s look at the impact of this formula.
The same percentage of each state’s funds is allocated for training, equipment, exercises, and planning, thus leaving no room to accommodate different states’ priorities. In each and every state, 70 percent of the federal funds must be spent for equipment and 7 percent for planning. In allocating funds this way, the federal government is effectively saying that Maine must spend exactly the same portion of its homeland security dollars on training as Hawaii. Moreover, states cannot transfer surplus funds from one category to another to meet their needs.

Maine’s officials told me that they needed more funding to train first responders to use the equipment purchased under the ODP grant program. The regulations, however, prohibited Maine from transferring surplus exercise dollars to train first responders in using the new equipment. Thus, in some cases, we may see communities with up-to-date, complex equipment but lacking the training to use it most effectively. This defies common sense.

I believe states should have the flexibility to spend homeland security dollars where they are most needed. To allow flexibility in homeland security funds that have already been appropriated but remain unspent, I will introduce legislation later today that authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to grant waivers to allow states to use funds from one category, such as training, for another purpose, such as purchasing equipment.

I have also introduced legislation that would move the Office of Domestic Preparedness from the Border and Transportation Security Directorate to Secretary Ridge’s office, where it belongs. By elevating ODP’s stature, I hope to begin the process of establishing a centralized location to help support our first responders.

I want to commend Secretary Ridge for his efforts to promote flexibility as he has incorporated nearly two-dozen agencies into the Department of Homeland Security. But Secretary Ridge can only play with the hand Congress has dealt him. And we’ve left him a couple cards short.

These hearings will provide the Committee with the information to assess whether the current structure of grant programs is getting the right resources to the right people. The witnesses will address many of the roadblocks in our grant programs including the lack of flexibility and coordination. The hearings will also focus on what some have referred to as a tangled web of existing programs.

In the omnibus funding bill as well as the supplemental appropriations bill passed just last week, we put a down payment on the needs of our communities. The increased funding of programs such as the FIRE Act and the state homeland security grants are important steps in providing adequate resources to our communities.

I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses here today, so we can build a stronger and better homeland security partnership in the months and years ahead.

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