WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Tuesday worked to augment the role of cities, towns, and counties in homeland security funding decisions and proposed an expansion of funding for the all-important state and local first responders on the front lines of the domestic war against terrorism. During Committee consideration of legislation authored by Chairman Susan Collins, R-Me., to improve the process by which first responders receive money from the federal government, Lieberman won acceptance of several proposals to boost the influence of localities in the disbursement of that money.
“With these changes,” Lieberman said, “the local officials who are really on the front lines in this war against terrorism will have more ability to get and effectively utilize the resources that they need to protect their citizens.” Lieberman also offered an amendment to provide for $10 billion in first responder funding for Fiscal Year 2004 – $6.5 billion above the President’s proposed $3.5 billion. Lieberman said $4 billion is needed to help first responders improve their coordination through the purchase of interoperable communications equipment. The rest, he said, should be used to strengthen training, buy state-of-the-art equipment, and fund overtime expenses. Accepted as part of the Collins legislation, S. 1245, which was reported out of Committee on a final vote of 9-0, with an additional eight yea votes cast by proxy, were the following Lieberman provisions: • Mayors and other local officials must be consulted in the development of state homeland security plans and may appeal to the Department of Homeland Security if they disagree with the state’s final plan. They may also appeal directly to DHS for funding if states’ failure to comply with the law jeopardizes funding for localities. • In two years, when the legislation requires states to match 25% of the federal funds they receive, states may request waivers for economic hardship. • State and local officials may use funding for overtime expenses related to heightened threat alerts. • States must pass 80% of their funding to local governments within 45 days of receiving it. The bill originally gave the states 60 days. “When we talk about first responders and first preventers, we must not for a moment forget that most are employed at the local level: in our police departments, fire departments, in our county and city hospitals,” Lieberman said. “We must not overlook or underestimate what local communities throughout the country need to raise their guard.” Lieberman also said he would continue to work hard to increase the amount of direct funding to local governments. Lieberman also endorsed a bipartisan proposal giving the Defense Department the authority to reform its civilian employment management system. The bill, S. 1166, allows the DOD to replace the current system of pay levels with a performance-based pay-banding system while providing critical safeguards to prevent nepotism and political favoritism and to promote a fair workplace. The measure gives the Defense Department tools to conduct on-the-spot hiring for positions where an exceptional need exists. And, while the bill makes union-management negotiations more efficient, it also maintains the foundation of collective bargaining. “Rather than bringing out the wrecking ball as some would, this bill is a thoughtful, bipartisan plan that would provide the Department with the flexibility it needs-without compromising critical rights and protections,” Lieberman said.