Let me be clear, there are many areas in which we agree with FEMA: everyone agrees that we should spend our homeland security dollars where they are most needed. Everyone understands that unspent funds remain in the pipeline and that we all need to do a better job of getting these funds out the door. Everyone shares the goals of basing funding decisions on threat assessments and reducing administrative burdens. And everyone agrees that we need to improve cooperation among the various agencies and governments involved in making our homeland secure.
The outline for the proposed National Preparedness Grant Program raises serious concerns and questions for those of us at the local level – and we are the ones charged with trying to prevent incidents from occurring in the first place and providing that critical first response when they do occur.
Among our concerns and questions:
The proposal moves away from the current regional and strategy-based approach to a competitive and project-based approach that will pit cities, counties and states against each other for funding.
The role of local government officials, local emergency managers, and first responders in the Threat Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment process is not clear. How can we ensure that it includes local concerns?
How will funding be distributed to local areas, and how do we ensure that it is used to meet local threats and preparedness gaps?
The UASI program ensures that federal funding is used to improve preparedness in high-risk areas, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission. How can FEMA ensure that the new program would meet this recommendation if it states are to distribute funding solely based on their own threat reviews?
And why are such major changes being proposed without advance consultation with the local governments and first responders charged with preventing and responding to incidents? Why are they being proposed without working with the authorizing committees of jurisdiction in Congress, and through the appropriations, rather than the authorization process?
Our concerns are shared by other national organizations representing local governments, local emergency managers, and first responders. We have worked with them to develop principles for improving the suite of homeland grant programs: transparency in state decision-making and the methodology for distributing funds; involvement of local government officials, including emergency managers and emergency response officials – the people who know best the threats and vulnerabilities in their areas – in these processes; flexibility which allows funding to fill preparedness gaps identified at the local level; local Funding, with federal grants continuing to be used primarily to support local prevention and preparedness efforts; continued emphasis on terrorism prevention; support for metropolitan regions, through regional funding and planning.
On March 19 other leaders of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and I participated in a conference call with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. She listened to our concerns and, I believe she understood them. She pledged that her Department would work with us to craft improvements to the nation’s homeland security programs which respond to local preparedness and response needs. We look forward to engaging in a joint effort which produces an approach that appropriately involves local governments and first responders in the nation’s homeland security system.
Michael Nutter is the Mayor of Philadelphia and vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors