Plan to overhaul FEMA lacks funding commitment

House and Senate authorizers who negotiated an agreement late last week to fix glaring problems in the federal government's emergency management system have yet to receive a commitment from appropriators to provide the hundreds of millions of dollars in fiscal 2007 funds needed under their plan.

The authorizers' compromise plan to overhaul the Federal Emergency Management Agency includes increases of 10 percent for FEMA's operating budget for three years; $175 million for emergency management performance grants; $30 million for metropolitan medical response teams; and $20 million for urban search and rescue teams.

The authorizers expect the overhaul plan -- based in large part on recommendations from investigations into government failures during last year's Hurricane Katrina -- to be added to the fiscal 2007 Homeland Security appropriations bill, which is now in a House-Senate conference. But there is no certainty the funding will be approved by conferees.

"It's unclear whether the funding will be appropriated this year or in later years," a House GOP aide said. Aides to House and Senate appropriators did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

The agreement on a FEMA overhaul plan also has not calmed the rancor between House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., and ranking member Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., over the issue of funding to help ensure that first responders can communicate with each other in an emergency. Thompson wants to provide $3.1 billion in additional funding to state and local governments for interoperable communications, but that funding was left out of the final agreement.

"By refusing to provide desperately needed funds for interoperable communications, House Republicans and the White House have shamefully sold out our nation's first responders in an effort to score political points just weeks before the upcoming election," Thompson said.

King claimed Monday that Thompson never raised the issue of providing the $3.1 billion for interoperable communications during negotiations. "It's really unfortunate that certain Democrats are trying to raise these last-minute political issues," King said.

A committee spokesman added: "Chairman King and ranking member Thompson wrote our bill together, passed it through committee together, and were negotiating with the Senate together. This was never an issue until Mr. Thompson took it to the press late last week. Frankly, it looks more like an excuse to walk away from the negotiations than anything else."

Aides to Thompson said they raised the issue of providing $3.1 billion with King's staff before Labor Day. In one communication to King's aides before Labor Day, which was reviewed by CongressDaily, a Thompson aide mentioned the funding amount. Thompson aides added that Thompson's participation in the negotiations for overhauling FEMA was based on trying to get the $3.1 billion.

"The 9/11 Commission says that we absolutely must have interoperability," Thompson said in a statement Monday. "As a former firefighter, I'm with the first responders and the commissioners on this one. I'll leave the political game playing to Mr. King this season."

Thompson also did not participate in signing off on the final agreement last week because the $3.1 billion was not being provided, an aide added. "We were no longer in the room because they basically told us our one issue was not on the table," the aide said.

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