House passes risk-based security grants

The House passed legislation Thursday to redistribute $2 billion in first-responder grants in 2006 so that more funding goes to high-risk and border states such as New York and California, and less to states at low-risk of terrorist attacks.

Sponsors of the Faster and Smarter for First Responders Act, H.R, 1544, which passed the House by a 409-10 margin, said the act aims to end the perception that homeland security dollars have been distributed too broadly with inadequate regard for terrorism risk.

"This new law will get federal assistance to first responders when and where it is needed," said Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who authored the bill. "At the same time, it will ensure that homeland security spending is directly related to national security preparedness and not political pork."

The move toward risk-based funding was recommended by the 9/11 Commission and is endorsed by DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff.

The legislation allocates a minimum of 0.45 percent of the total grant funding available to each high-risk state, and a minimum of 0.25 percent to each state without high-risk factors.

The rest of the grant money also will be distributed based on risk, under a risk assessment to be performed by the Homeland Security Department.

The legislation is likely to face opposition in the Senate, where many small, rural states stand to lose funding under the House version. A Senate bill on redistributing first responder grants, S. 21, was approved April 13 by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. That bill sets the baselines differently, with a higher baseline amount than in the House bill for each state for the largest grant program.

In the past, each state received 0.75 percent of the total amount available under the State Homeland Security Grant Program, the largest of the grant programs, with the remainder distributed primarily by population. That led to states such as Wyoming receiving more than $30 per capita while New York received less than $10 per capita.

The bill approved Thursday is the first major piece of legislation passed by the House that originated in the Homeland Security Committee, which became permanent this year.

The money will pay for police, fire, emergency medical and disaster management services including equipment, training, drills and planning. Some of the equipment include IT products and devices to foster interoperability among systems, send public warnings and link first responder agencies.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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