WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced bipartisan legislation today authorizing the Department of Homeland Security, which awards homeland security grants, to provide waivers that would allow states to use funds from one category, such as training, for another purpose, such as purchasing equipment.
“This bill would provide greater flexibility in homeland security funds that have been appropriated, but remain unspent,” Collins said. “I believe that states should have the flexibility to spend these dollars where they are most needed.”
At a Senate hearing earlier today, a panel of police and fire chiefs said they have yet to see a penny of the billions of dollars in federal grant money that has been appropriated to help them prepare their communities for a chemical, nuclear or biological attack. In large part, the problem is the federal grant system itself, which is overly restrictive and needlessly complex, they told members of the Governmental Affairs Committee, which Collins chairs. Under current regulations, a federal grant might allow an agency to buy protective equipment, for example, but the agency would be prohibited from using any surplus in the fund to teach officers how to use the equipment.
“In some cases, we may see agencies with up-to-date equipment, but lacking the training to use it most effectively,” Collins said. “This defies common sense.”
Today’s hearing is one in a series of hearings examining how effectively the federal government is assisting states and local governments, and first responders in their homeland security efforts. The next homeland security hearing will be held on May 1, 2003.