WASHINGTON-Today, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees the Department on Homeland Security, introduced bipartisan legislation that would strengthen federal support of first responders. This legislation would restructure the Department of Homeland Security’s state and local homeland security grant program, make it easier to apply for federal funds, and coordinate the many grant programs that provide homeland security funds.
“The current homeland security grant structure is unacceptable,” Collins said. “Secretary Ridge has done an admirable job of distributing billions of dollars of homeland security funds based on borrowed authorities and with no real guidance. It is time to deal the Secretary a full hand of cards and to give our states, localities, and first responders a straight path to homeland security resources, not a maze. My legislation will help first responders do what they do best – prepare for and respond to emergencies.”
Collins’ bill, the Homeland Security Grant Enhancement Act, would improve the state and local homeland security grant program by streamlining the application and planning process, promoting additional flexibility of the funds, and providing first responders with resources in a more coordinated and timely fashion. A wide range of state and local groups, including the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the National Governors Association and the National Emergency Managers Association, support this approach to improving homeland security funding.
The legislation would also help the Department of Homeland Security create one-stop shopping for states, communities and first responders to access grant funding, technical assistance for vulnerability and threat assessments, information on best practices and the type of equipment being purchased with federal funds. In addition, the bill would eliminate duplicative homeland security planning and application requirements across the federal government. In addition, the legislation would also free up homeland security funds that have been appropriated but remain unspent by allowing states and localities greater flexibility.
The Collins bill retains the effective structure of the FIRE Act, which provides fire departments with resources to equip and train firefighters, but coordinates these activities with other homeland security grant programs. The International Association of Firefighters has endorsed this proposal.
The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Thomas Carper (D-DE), George Voinovich (R-OH), John Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Russell Feingold (D-WI), John Sununu (R-NH), Wayne Allard (R-CO), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Norm Coleman (R-MN), and Mark Pryor (D-AR).