WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins R-Me., Friday hailed the restoration of critical first responder funding in the Department of Homeland Security Fiscal Year 2009 Budget and cheered Senate acceptance of their amendment to increase funding for FEMA operations and management by $141 million.

The Senate and House both approved their FY09 Budget Resolutions late Thursday night.

“Protecting American citizens where they live – from terrorist attack or natural disaster – cannot be done by slicing budgets in half,” Lieberman said. “The Senate has wisely restored critical first responder funds the President’s budget would have cut by 48 percent. These are monies that states, cities, and towns absolutely rely on to keep their communities safe.”

Collins said: “Our nation’s law enforcement personnel, firefighters, emergency medical service providers, and emergency managers rely on critical federal grant programs to protect and safeguard us from terrorist attacks and natural disasters. By funding these programs at or above fiscal year 2008 levels, the Senate has sent a strong message of support to these brave first responders.”

The Senators also noted essential funding to DHS to begin building a new headquarters at the St. Elizabeths West Campus. Today, DHS is spread throughout 70 buildings across the National Capital Region making communication, coordination, and cooperation between DHS components a significant challenge.

“A unified headquarters, which would bring together many of the Department’s components into a single facility and allow employees to work more efficiently and interactively is a critical cornerstone of the efforts to improve management at the Department of Homeland Security,” Lieberman said.

The Lieberman-Collins FEMA amendment would add $141 million to fully fund the Administration’s requested increase to pay for modernizing the agency’s IT systems; strengthening and expanding key teams and other personnel that handle disaster operations, logistics and other vital capabilities; and converting certain temporary disaster support employees to permanent staff, which should help provide a more stable and professional workforce for this program.

“By adopting our amendment to increase FEMA funding by $141 million, the Budget Resolution will also help FEMA continue effective implementation of the Committee’s Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act,” Collins said. “These funds will help FEMA make needed personnel reforms and vital improvements to its infrastructure and information technology.”

The Senate Budget Resolution rejected the President’s proposed cuts to first responder and instead funds the primary grant program for states – the State Homeland Security Grant Program – at its current level of $950 million. That is the figure that HSGAC authorized it at in the Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007.

The Senate also rejected proposed cuts to other vital grant programs including grants to firefighters, for emergency management, and for port and transit security. All of these programs were restored to FY 08 funding levels, adjusted for inflation.

On the critical matter of interoperable communications, the Senate budget increases funding for the Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant Program (IECGP) from $50 million this year to $200 million in FY 09.