Congressional Appropriators Side with NLC, First Responders on Homeland Security Grants

by Mitchel Herckis

In what can be considered a victory for first responders across the nation, last week both the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations marked up legislation that rejected an Obama Administration proposal to consolidate 16 State and Local Homeland Security Grant Programs into one state-centric grant program called the National Preparedness Grant Program (NPGP).

Proposed in the President's FY 2013 budget, the NPGP would have required states to only pass funding to Urban Area Security Initiative recipients; the remainder of the funds -- of which more than 80 percent is currently required to be passed directly to local jurisdictions -- would have gone to the state to be distributed based on state and national threat and risk assessments. This includes grants for transit and port security, urban search and rescue, metropolitan medical response, pre-disaster mitigation grants, and a number of other standalone programs that targeted funds at specific threats.

Since the consolidation was proposed, NLC and several colleague organizations have urged key stakeholders in Congress and the Administration to take a more inclusive and deliberative approach to reform that includes the voices of local governments and first responders.

Responding to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) lack of detail on how grants would be implemented and no assurances that the needs of localities would be met under NPGP, NLC sent a series of letters to both Congress and the Administration. In the letters, NLC urged Congress to maintain the reforms implemented last year to gauge their effectiveness, and asked FEMA to begin to work with all its stakeholders to find a clear path forward on additional reforms to the program.  In addition to its concerns with the proposal, NLC and its allies put forward principles that FEMA should consider in any future efforts to reform the program.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees agreed with the arguments made by the coalition and made direct points of rejecting the Administration's proposal in their spending bills. In denying the Administration the authority to create the NPGP, the House Appropriations Committee cited the lack of detail required and explained in the committee report that "... the Committee met with and heard testimony from numerous stakeholders that expressed concern not just with the grant proposal but also with the lack of stakeholder outreach prior to the program's introduction. The Committee considers this lack of outreach concerning and it should be addressed."

Similarly, in an opening statement, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.), chair of the Committee on Appropriation's Subcommittee on Homeland Security, stated that "... the grant reform proposal from the Department simply lacked the specificity I needed for its implementation, and in addition, the Authorizing Chair and Ranking Member ... and major stakeholders wrote to us asking us not to include these reforms."

NLC appreciates Congress' efforts to ensure that the Administration take a thoughtful approach to state and local grant reform and work directly with local stakeholders to ensure any future reform puts our local first responders first.