Analysis predicts drop in first responder funding

First responders will probably see a downturn in federal funding in the next few years, a market research firm concluded in a report to be published Friday.

In fiscal 2004, lawmakers boosted the Homeland Security Department's emergency response budget to nearly $3.8 billion from $3.5 billion the previous year, according to the report, issued by Reston, Va.-based INPUT. But funding won't necessarily increase in fiscal 2005, said James Krouse, manager of state and local technology market analysis at INPUT.

Bush administration officials have asked both House and Senate lawmakers to scale back first responder funding included in preliminary versions of the fiscal 2005 Homeland Security spending package, Krouse noted. The House version of the appropriations bill (H.R. 4567), passed in June, allots $4.1 billion for state and local emergency response efforts, $500 million more than the $3.6 billion Bush sought in his 2005 budget, and the Senate version of the bill (S. 2537) approved earlier this month provides $3.9 billion.

House-Senate conferees will meet this week or next to hammer out the differences between the two versions of the spending bill, a Senate Appropriations Committee spokeswoman said. While the spending packages approved by both chambers well exceed Bush's request, administration officials will probably try to convince lawmakers to cut first responder funding during the House-Senate negotiations, Krouse said.

The administration has voiced strong opposition to the funding levels under consideration on Capitol Hill. Bush's $3.6 billion request called for a doubling in funds targeted toward first responders in high-risk urban areas and a decrease in general funds, but neither chamber of Congress acted on the recommendation.

"While we appreciate the committee's support for the first responder community, the administration believes that the programs funded through the Department of Homeland Security should be better targeted toward terrorism preparedness," Office of Management and Budget officials wrote in a policy statement on an initial version of the House Homeland Security appropriations bill.

Even if House-Senate negotiators stand firm under pressure from the administration during the fiscal 2005 appropriations process, first responder funding is likely to fall in the coming years, Krouse concluded in his market report. Congress may begin asking states and localities to match federal emergency response funds, he predicted based partly on trends in transportation grant programs.

Much of the federal money currently available, especially for technology-related projects, isn't reaching first responders, Krouse added. An April 2004 report prepared by the Republican staff of the House Homeland Security Committee indicated that more than 80 percent of the money available to the department for grants to first responders remained "in the administrative pipeline."

Lawmakers may soon realize that first responders stand to benefit from better access to existing funds, but don't necessarily need a funding increase each year, Krouse said.

But Ken Johnson, a spokesman for the House Homeland Security Committee, said there is no effort afoot to scale back appropriations for first responders. The current debate on Capitol Hill centers on the targeting and distribution, rather than the level, of emergency response funding, he said.

A bill designed to better tailor resources to regions most in need of money has been added to the intelligence reform legislation under consideration in the House.

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