Budgetary ax falls on funding for first responders

The effort to control federal spending has prompted lawmakers to reduce funding to help emergency responders update and integrate equipment.

The Bush administration's fiscal 2003 budget request for $3.5 billion to aid police, fire and other "first responders" is now at about $3.3 billion, an aide to the Senate Appropriations Committee told National Journal's Technology Daily on Thursday. The Senate this week has been debating that and other funding issues as part of an omnibus fiscal 2003 spending bill.

After delivering remarks to the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Thursday, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a leading proponent of directly funding state and local homeland security activities, echoed the budget figures.

"We were originally talking between three and three-and-a-half billion," said Clinton, D-N.Y. "That money has never materialized. It is not even in the pipeline. ... Even some of the money that would be considered earmarked for homeland security ... has been cut across the board because of the effort to try to bring the spending down."

Even before lawmakers introduced the omnibus spending bill, they had approved a $132 million cut in funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That money would have been earmarked to pay for new technologies aimed at helping state and local emergency operation centers communicate with each other, according to the congressional aide.

The remaining funds targeted for first responders were folded into the omnibus measure. The Senate then further slashed those funds under a 2.9 percent across-the-board spending cut, leaving the current $3.3 billion.

"I think the bottom line is that there is a lot of rhetoric [about helping first responders] but not many resources," Clinton said. "The result is [that] a lot of communities are being pressed very hard because nobody wants to turn their back on public safety."

Clinton pledged to roughly 300 mayors to push for action on her new bill, S. 87, that would authorize $3.5 billion in block grants directly to localities to help them meet new security mandates since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Clinton said that on Friday at John J. College in New York City, she plans to release a study produced by her staff that reveals that little federal money has been sent to states and localities since the terrorist attacks despite escalating public-safety costs in those jurisdictions.

She said the study sought to "determine exactly how much money our cities and counties have received. ... It will not surprise you to learn that the answer is not much." She encouraged mayors to educate federal lawmakers on their needs and press Congress to provide aid.