Task force: procurement rules impede responder funds

Changing state and local government procurement rules, creating a comptroller's office at the Homeland Security Department and using a real-time grant tracking system are among the recommendations to improve the flow of funding to first responders, according to a new report from a bipartisan government task force.

Local governments have complained since Sept. 11, 2001, that the federal government has been slow to get them funds for first responders. Several unrelated issues, such as procurement rules and backlogs of equipment orders from private-sector homeland security vendors, combined to slow the funding to first responders, the Task Force on State and Local Homeland Security Funding said June 17.

"This report represents a consensus reached by governors, mayors, municipal officials and first responders," said Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Funding Task Force's chairman. "We believe these recommendations, if rapidly implemented, will get these critical funds moving through the pipeline so we can do a better job of protecting our communities."

"We will be asking Congress to implement the recommendations quickly in legislation now pending," Romney said.

The recommendations are available for consideration by all agencies involved in the homeland security grants distribution process, the task force said.

The commission recommends:

  • Altering state and local legislative and procurement procedures to expedite accepting and spending homeland security funds

  • For certain fiscal 2005 grants, allowing state and local governments to draw grant money from the Treasury Department within 120 days before spending it, instead of the three to five days now allowed

  • Establishing an Office of Comptroller within the Homeland Security Department to assume financial responsibility over grants

  • Extending grant funds for overtime to threat- and risk-specific security operations

  • Developing minimum staffing recommendations for state and local grant and program management personnel

  • Enhancing training and technical assistance to state and local employees involved in managing and distributing homeland security grants

  • Standardizing terminology and use of a real-time grant tracking system at all levels of government

  • Compiling and disseminating best practices of funding flow systems to use these funds quickly and effectively

  • Establishing multistate cooperative purchasing agreements to speed up purchasing and procurement times to get equipment faster.

The task force determined that procurement, legislative oversight and cash management processes are unreliable ways to fund in extraordinary times. In such times, the need to rapidly procure and deploy homeland security-related equipment conflicts with state and local buying regulations and procurement processes.

The Homeland Security Department has made about $8 billion available to state and local governments. The president's proposed 2005 budget contains an additional $5 billion.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge created the Funding Task Force in March. The 20-member task force examined the funding process to understand why there have been delays; examined and cataloged best practices; and provided recommendations to eliminate choke points that impede funds distribution.

The task force's findings and recommendations were delivered through the Homeland Security Advisory Council, which is composed of leaders from state and local government, the emergency response community, academia and the private sector.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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