Federal funds for first responders are waiting on programs

A glut of unspent federal money for state and local first responders could lead to a leveling off of grants funding in the coming fiscal year, according to a study of budget requests done by Input Inc., a Chantilly, Va., market research company.

The Homeland Security Department has requested $3.6 billion for fiscal 2005 to help first responders prepare for evolving security threats, down from the $3.75 billion appropriated for 2004. The actual amount available next year will depend on congressional action. The Senate has proposed $3.75 billion for first responders and the House has proposed $4.1 billion.

But according to a House report, $5.2 billion of the $6.3 billion already appropriated for terrorism preparedness remains unspent.

'The problem is that programs have been slow to develop,' said James Krause, Input manager of state and local market analysis.

Krause said that money for technology has been carefully, if not cautiously, spent. DHS has supported regional pilots for interoperable communications, but evolving standards for technology have kept the pace of implementation slow.

When viable programs become ready for rollout, the rate of spending could increase as available money is spent.

'There is enough money in the bank,' Krause said.

Although DHS funding for first responders is leveling off, the portion available for IT could be growing.

'We have seen a flip-flop in the original funding model,' Krause said. Originally, most of the money was sent to states in block grants. 'That portion to the states has been halved,' he said. More money now is being targeted for specific community communications projects.

Input also reported that overall spending on homeland security technology is expected to grow slowly for the next two years, but should accelerate by 2007, when pilot projects begin to bear fruit.


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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