Senator Collins Praises Department of Homeland Security for Creating Grant Task Force

WASHINGTON, D.C.- Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) today praised Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Tom Ridge for creating a task force that will examine the homeland security grant process to ensure that funds move more quickly to first responders. Portland, Maine Mayor Nathan Smith has been asked to serve on the Task Force.

Senator Collins chairs the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, which oversees the Department of Homeland Security. She has been a leader in Congress in making sure that the billions of dollars in grant funds the Department of Homeland Security distributes do not get bottled up on their way to reaching first responders.

“Secretary Ridge recognizes the need to streamline the homeland security grant process so that first responders get the help they need when they need it,” said Senator Collins, whose Committee has jurisdiction over DHS. “The current system is too cumbersome and takes time away from what our first responders want to be doing-protecting our communities.

“Maine will be represented on the Task Force by the mayor of its largest city, Portland,” Senator Collins continued. “Portland, home to New England’s second largest seaport, an international jetport that annually processes 1.2 million passengers, and a turnpike utilized by 15,000-25,000 vehicles each day, understands the challenges of homeland security.”

The Homeland Security Task Force is composed of governors, mayors, county officials, tribal leaders and other senior officials with first-hand experience in homeland security issues and will operate under the aegis of the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) and its State and Local Officials and Emergency Response Senior Advisory Committees. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will serve as chair of the Task Force, and Akron, Ohio Mayor Donald L. Plusquellic will serve as vice chair. Secretary Ridge expects to receive recommendations from the Task Force members and the HSAC within the next two months on how to expedite the process for distributing funds.

“Getting money out under the current grant structure is sometimes like trying to run a fire hose through a garden sprinkler,” said Senator Collins. “There are many bureaucratic hurdles that must be crossed before the funds reach our first responders. That’s why I am moving forward with legislation that will help to end that logjam.”

Last year, Senator Collins introduced the Homeland Security Grant Enhancement Act (S. 1245), which would authorize a program to provide billions of dollars in assistance to state and local governments and first responders. The bill would give first responders and local officials a greater voice in determining how federal homeland dollars will be spent. It also would create a “one-stop” point of access to grant funding, technical assistance, threat assessments and information on best practices and equipment. It further would allow more flexibility in the use of federal dollars to address homeland security needs and provide first responders with funding in a more coordinated and timely manner. In addition, the bill would eliminate duplication in homeland security planning requirements, simplify the grant application process, and promote equipment interoperability. The bill was approved unanimously by her committee in June 2003.