“Funding for First Responders: Ensuring That Federal Funds are Distributed Intelligently”
Thank you Chairman Cox, Ranking Member Turner, and distinguished committee members for this opportunity to offer my testimony on homeland security funding and programs for first responders. It is my honor to appear before you to help represent the progress and challenges faced by our first responder community in protecting states and municipalities.
Let me also commend you for the timeliness of this hearing as well as the support of Congress and the Administration to date in implementing a new Department of Homeland Security and assisting states with our preparedness. There continues to be uneasiness in America, now even two years after the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Citizens are concerned about their own futures and their own security. We must, through continued dialogue and actions, demonstrate the great commitment of this nation and our individual states to do everything possible to maintain a secure homeland. The willingness and leadership of both Congress and Secretary Ridge to make changes, implement new structure and programs, and seek feedback from those on the frontlines sends a powerful message to our citizens.
The world in which we now live has been largely influenced and shaped by the events which occurred on a beautiful Tuesday morning just over two years ago. And while we are still coming to grips with a changed world, we have had to immediately act on the new reality of preparing for an enemy that can strike at any place, at any time, with virtually any weapon.
States and municipalities have done just that.
Over the last two years, as both a memorial to those who died and as a collective passionate attempt to do everything possible to prevent further attacks, there has been significant activity at all levels of government, academia, and private industry to buttress domestic preparedness and security.
From this experience and as a result of our endeavors, emergency management has been redefined evolving from a natural disaster, cold war civil defense focus to a much more comprehensive and inclusive discipline. Barriers have been broken down and cooperation is at an all time high. But more can and must be done.
All threats – from burning buildings to an odorless, invisible biological agent – must be considered. All stakeholders – from professional responders to volunteers to medical personnel – must be involved and highly trained.
For government, the despair and destruction of 9/11 served as a jolting reminder that its foremost responsibility is to protect the health, safety and well-being of its citizens – there is no more important mission. The United States now spends in excess of $100 billion per year on homeland security, not including military spending – certainly one measure of its commitment.
But with this commitment, are we safer than before 9/11? That ultimately is the question before us today. The answer is yes — we are safer and each day that passes is safer than the one before. Still, the more we do, the more we learn what we need to do. The new and emerging dangers of today instruct us that we can only meet these challenges by developing a more comprehensive and shared vision of how best to secure America.
And although we all feel the urgency to shore up our capacity to defend against and respond to new threats, we must give ourselves the time and space to do it right. I have been in your shoes. I know the tendency of Congress to measure and quantify all success in terms of time and speed. I would submit our measure for this particular mission should focus more on quality, integration, and effectiveness. The soundness of our investments is more important than the speed of those investments. In short, we define and measure against set standards.
One of those clear standards is to provide easily accessible funding, equipment, and training – that is the tools to respond – to our front line first responders.
I am here today to speak in favor of several of the principles expressed in HR 3266, “The Faster and Smarter Funding for First Responders Act,” and other related pieces of homeland security legislation before Congress. Ultimately, together, we must craft and support legislation that with help make the day-to-day responsibilities of first responders and emergency planners easier and more effective.
The three goals this legislation is built around are simple yet vital.
First, grants must be allocated through — but not necessarily for — state governments. Despite all the controversy and debate, states have effectively worked with municipalities and pushed funding and equipment down to the local level in accordance with state developed plans and Congressional guidelines. Governors clearly understand the importance of regional cooperation and mutual aid but we should not encourage regional efforts to be developed in a vacuum. Comprehensive, interoperable national and state plans simply cannot be created if funding goes directly to municipalities or other separate organizations without the involvement of a state.
When large scale disaster strikes and local resources are overwhelmed, it is Governors who are directly responsible for the safety and well-being of our citizens. The buck rests at our desks. State coordination is essential and must be maintained.
Secondly, we must streamline and simplify the grant process. The sixteen different grant programs spread across three major federal agencies, and several sub-offices, are simply too cumbersome and too confusing. The more overhead and bureaucracy at the federal level, the more overhead we must maintain at the state level.
Thirdly, grants should be at least, partially, distributed based on threat analysis and unique regional vulnerabilities. All states and communities need a base level of response capabilities and we certainly should not do away completely with formula, non-competitive based funding. But let’s put some substantial funding where the intelligence professionals think we have the greatest vulnerabilities and offer financial incentives for creative preparedness partnerships.
All chief executives – whether governors, mayors, or county executives – are concerned about controlling budgets and the ability to provide matching funds. Available grants are of no use if we cannot afford the match. Unfortunately, that is a reality in today’s economic environment. This is all the more reason why regional grant initiatives and applications for grants must be coordinated through the states. I have 169 municipalities who have their own tight budgets and look to the state for maximum assistance with matching funds. Allowing towns and regional entities to apply for their own grants, while looking to the state to help cover matching requirements, is simply not practical.
Those real life economic issues mean we must keep two other principles in mind as we design future grant programs.
We must approach this from an all-hazards approach and not short change the basic needs of our firefighters, law enforcement personnel, and emergency management professionals. We have a lot of catching up to do in basic infrastructure and communications improvements. That takes dedicated, restricted funding. We cannot loose sight that the most common and frequent threats to this nation and our states remain natural disasters, fires, and the scourge of drugs on our streets.
That is why I am encouraged to see that most of the legislation before you will not modify the existing and very successful FIRE ACT, COPS, and Emergency Management Performance grants that are so vital to that progress. They are working, essential, and must be maintained. This funding provides the base level infrastructure, programming, and staffing that will allow us to take our preparedness to the next level. Let’s not “rob Peter” to find new grant money for “Paul.”
Additionally, maximum flexibility must be a core component of future grant programs. For example, for too long grant funding for first responder training has been limited and restrictive. Although the equipment is starting to flow into the field, municipalities cannot afford to take their public safety employees off-line and get them through necessary training. We must improve access to training and help localities with the costs of personnel backfill and overtime.
Both states and municipalities have proven that we can rise to the homeland security challenge, even in difficult economic times. While many Governors have made very painful budget decisions, including permanent layoffs of employees, we have used our own resources to respond to terrorism threats while keeping up with the management of federal homeland security grants
States have obligated over 75% of the homeland security funding obtained through FY02. States and municipalities are now working jointly on new, detailed threat assessments and new plans in preparation for FY04 funding. Many Governors and legislatures have authorized millions in state funding to develop new offices to focus on homeland security, invest in new infrastructure, improve communications capabilities, develop new response teams, and respond to periods of heightened alert.
In Connecticut, our experiences range from being one of New York’s neighbors during the terror of 9/11 to having a citizen killed by anthrax spores sent through the mail. We have created one of the best staffed Homeland Security offices in the nation entirely with state resources. We have created our own state anti-terrorism task force to better serve the intelligence needs of local agencies. We have linked police, fire, and emergency medical incident commanders together through a single, statewide communications system. We have developed and trained regional mental health response teams to provide behavioral health services in time of crisis. We are bonding $3 million to equip a state Urban Search and Rescue Team. We expect to invest $30 million in a new state-of-the-art public health lab and portable 100-bed hospital to be prepared for any public health emergency. And I could easily go on.
Like many other states, our experiences, initiatives, and capabilities are varied and impressive. We can effectively turn federal funding into tangible, effective preparedness.
In summary, we must always keep in mind that there will be consequences for all of us if we fail to improve processes, streamline requirements, and focus on standards, not time. Specifically, we will end up with equipment that is not interoperable; purchases that are inefficient; response protocols that are not uniform; and training that is disparate. Now is the time to take stock of where we are, where we need to go, and what is the most efficient way to get there. We cannot afford to wait for the next tragic attack.
Your continued efforts to help streamline this process and assist us with the challenges we face will surely continue to advance our readiness. Thank you for your support and consideration.