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Homeland Security

Statement of The Honorable Tom Ridge

Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs

"Investing in Homeland Security: Streamlining and Enhancing Homeland Security Grant Programs"

May, 01 2003

Statement of Secretary Tom Ridge
Department of Homeland Security
Before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs
May 1, 2003

Good morning Chairman Collins, Senator Lieberman, distinguished members of the committee. It is a pleasure and privilege to be with you for my first appearance before the Governmental Affairs Committee as Secretary of Homeland Security. This is the committee principally responsible for passage of the Homeland Security Act, and as a result, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. I thank you for your historic efforts in that undertaking and for your continued interest and support as we work to build the Department we all envision. Your oversight and involvement play a critical role in moving DHS forward, whether through confirmation of critical departmental appointees, through monitoring implementation of the Homeland Security Act, or through exploring ways that we might improve upon the original blueprint for the Department.

Thank you for the opportunity to come here today to discuss possible ways to streamline and improve the Department’s homeland security grant programs. It is a subject that continues to receive considerable attention and debate as we all work together to properly balance and distribute the costs of protecting our American homeland from terrorism.

We, as Americans, have an appropriately deep sense of gratitude, respect and admiration for our dedicated and courageous First Responder community. They are the ones we turn to first in time of need, and they never let us down. The diligence and professionalism that First Responders recently involved with Operation Liberty Shield demonstrated typify the way these selfless Americans approach their duties. They are really more than First Responders; many are “first preventers” as well, sending a clear signal to those who would do us harm that America is on watch, at every level, to keep our homeland and our home towns secure.

It is a priority of this administration and the Department of Homeland Security to effectively and efficiently meet our responsibility to support First Responders in playing their critical role in our counter-terrorism efforts. I am pleased to be working with leaders at the state and local level to ensure this support is properly organized, properly focused and properly funded. Today’s hearing is an important part of this process.

We are operating in a fiscal and security environment where we must ensure maximum security benefit is derived from every security dollar. To do that, we must have the courage to question the way we do business, and the will to make changes if we can find a better way.

Two questions I would like to address today are:
First: Can we improve the way the Department of Homeland Security’s First Responder Grant Programs are organized within the Department?
Second: Can we improve the formulas by which these grants are distributed?
I believe the answer to both questions is, YES.

Currently within the Department, the Office for Domestic Preparedness issues terrorism preparedness formula grants to state and local First Responders from its placement within the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security. At the same time, the Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response issues Fire Grants to state and local firefighters. There is an Office of State and Local Government Coordination, which serves as our principle liaison to state and local entities, but they administer no grant programs at all. All three of these entities are doing a superb job with their respective programs. The degree of coordination is far greater than before the Department was created. But there are steps available to us that would streamline and improve their important work of supporting our state and local partners in the war on terrorism.

The President’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2004 proposes that monies for both ODP and Fire Grant programs be administered through the Office for Domestic Preparedness. The request is a $3.6 billion commitment to support First Responders, is consistent with ODP’s statutory mandate to direct and supervise federal terrorism preparedness grant programs, and is a major step toward simplifying both the management and the application processes for First Responder grant funds. It would move state and local governments toward the “one stop shop” they have been looking for, consolidate related functions within DHS, and improve coordination between the programs. This represents a critical first step toward streamlining and improving DHS grant programs.

S796, a bill co-sponsored by Chairman Collins and Senators Lieberman and Durbin, takes a second and equally important step. It would move the Office for Domestic Preparedness from its current placement with the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security and place it within the Office of State and Local Government Coordination. Oversight of its functions would be elevated from the Under Secretary level to the Secretary’s level. More importantly though, it would collocate funding programs for state and local First Responders within the office directly responsible for maintaining communications, and coordinating DHS’ efforts, with state and local governments. The Administration supports the move of ODP as proposed in this legislation and I look forward to working with you in a bi-partisan fashion on the specifics of the legislation.

The above mentioned steps represent important structural changes that would improve the way DHS administers First Responder grant programs by substantially increasing the efficiency with which these programs operate. There are additional changes though that are needed to reap similar improvements in the effectiveness of the grants.

We have learned much about securing our homeland since September 11th, 2001, including much within the past few months from Operation Liberty Shield. One of the lessons that has become clear is that the formula currently being used for distribution of ODP grants, and partially defined within the Patriot Act, can be improved upon. The concept behind the Patriot formula is valid; security needs to be improved everywhere, and the most protection is needed where the most people are located. But our current formula fails to recognize that linear population increases do not equate to linear threat increases. Concentrations of critical infrastructure and politically attractive targets can tend to increase threat levels exponentially. Just because one city has twice the population of another, it doesn’t necessarily mean that its threat level is double. That larger city could, for a variety of reasons, have a level of threat that is far greater.

As Secretary of Homeland Security, I have come to recognize the shortcomings of our current formula. The Congress, I believe, has seen them as well. The need to separate funds out for high-threat urban areas was first recognized and addressed in the Fiscal Year 2003 Omnibus. That need was again addressed by separating funds out from the ODP formula grants in the Fiscal Year 2003 Wartime Supplemental. While these steps are effective in the short term, I believe we need to address the cause behind the need for them. The Administration is currently working to develop an updated formula for use in fiscal year 2004 that better takes into account threats, population density and the presence of critical infrastructure. This work is essential in ensuring that the substantial monies we are currently providing through these programs are distributed for absolutely maximum security benefit to the nation. We look forward to working closely with our nation’s State and local first responders and stakeholder communities throughout this process to ensure that effective and equitable funding is provided. We also look forward to continuing to work with the Congress as that process moves forward.

Let me close with a reaffirmation of the Administration’s, the Department’s and my personal commitment to our nation’s heroic First Responders. I salute them for their patriotism and thank them for their service. DHS is committed to doing all within our power and purview to see that they, and all involved in protecting our homeland are part of a well organized, properly resourced and focused team. I thank the committee for the opportunity to share my thoughts on this most important topic and welcome any questions you might have.

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