King Resists Cuts to Fire Grants, Securing the Cities
By Mickey McCarter
Homeland Security Today
May 14, 2009
Members of the House Homeland Security Committee pressed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on proposed cuts to firefighter grants and detection programs for radiological threats Wednesday in the proposed fiscal 2010 budget for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Led by Rep. Peter King (R-NY), ranking member of the committee, lawmakers expressed their disappointment that the DHS budget proposal seemed to shortchange two critical efforts--funding firefighters and securing US cities against nuclear weapons.
King wondered if a proposed 70 percent cut in fire grants were justified.
"I am certainly hearing from fire districts," he stated. "I am chairman of the congressional fire caucus, and I believe last year there was over $3 billion in fire grants, which shows the real need for it and demand for it."
Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) agreed with King's skepticism, noting that he sees a need for the funding as a volunteer firefighter himself.
King, whose district includes parts of Long Island, also voiced his disappointment over discontinued funding for the Securing the Cities initiative, which is a three-year pilot program to set up radiological detectors around New York City.
"I don't believe the pilot program, even in its pilot stage, has been completed, but the fact is that when we look overseas to Madrid and London, it's very likely that the next attack on a major city is going to be launched from outside the city in suburban areas, from areas outside the city, which is why it's so essential that we have radiation detection, that we have comprehensive efforts," King remarked.
Napolitano explained that cuts to both efforts were made mostly as cost-saving moves. With regard to fire grants, the secretary pointed to funding for them in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5), which prompted DHS to seek savings through providing less money for them in its spending proposal.
On Securing the Cities, Napolitano acknowledged that protecting the nation from radiological and nuclear attacks is a top mission of DHS. But she said New York had not spent all of its fiscal 2008 grant money for the pilot yet and still had not submitted an application for fiscal 2009 funds.
"So there is money in the pipeline to continue and fulfill the grant through FY '10," Napolitano commented. "And so it was the judgment that we shouldn't put more new money in it because there was money that would fund the program through this fiscal year and as I think we all recognize the money is very tight this year and what we're trying to do is if we have unspent monies, well, we'll use those as opposed to asking for others."
Thompson applauded the budget's proposal to move the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs out of FEMA and to the DHS Office of the Secretary as well as the transfer of the Federal Protective Service (FPS) from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the National Protection and Programs Directorate, which has an infrastructure protection mission more in line with FPS' mission.
But he also called for an end to the Department's "over-reliance on contractors," which he said has undermined its mission. DHS has spent more than 40 percent of its budget on contractors in previous years, and now employs more than 15,000 contractors--about a 300 percent increase since the establishment of DHS.
Napolitano said DHS would focus on drawing that number down and bringing more work in-house beginning with the fiscal 2011 budget.