Council of Foreign Relations (Rudman) Report

William R. Cumming

At the end of June, the Council of Foreign Relations released their report, Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared. The report focused on the equipment and funding of so-called first responders (a term first used and adopted in the United States Fire Administration in the late 70ís and early 80ís.) The task force identified two major obstacles hampering America's first responder efforts. First, because there are no technical preparedness standards, it is difficult to know what is needed and how much it costs. Second, funding for emergency responders has been sidetracked and stalled due to a politicized appropriations process, slowness in the distribution of the funds by federal agencies, and bureaucratic red tape at all levels of government.

To address the lack of standards and good numbers, the Task Force makes the following recommendations:

    • Congress should require that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) work with state and local agencies and officials and emergency responder professional associations to establish clearly defined standards and guidelines for emergency preparedness. These standards must be sufficiently flexible to allow local officials to set priorities based on their needs, provided that they reach nationally-determined preparedness levels within a fixed time period. It should be noted, however, that since standard setting can be construed as regulation, it is unknown how much authority DHS has to set standards, but some commentators state DHS has no authority to do so.
    • Congress should require that the DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services submit a coordinated plan for meeting identified national preparedness standards by the end of FY07. The DHS pursuant to its organic legislation is revising the old federal planning for emergency response, principally the Federal Response Plan and National Contingency Plan for Oil Spills and Hazardous Materials Releases into a new National Response Plan. The implementation target date is January 1st, 2005.
    • Congress should establish a system for allocating scarce budget resources based less on dividing the spoils and more on addressing identified threats and vulnerabilities. To do this, the Federal government should consider such factors as population, population density, vulnerability assessment, and presence of critical infrastructure within each state. State governments should be required to use the same criteria for distributing funds within each state.
    • Congress should establish within DHS a National Institute for Best Practices in Emergency Preparedness to work with state and local governments, emergency preparedness professional associations, and other partners to share best practices and lessons learned.
    • Congress should make emergency responder grants in FY04 and thereafter on a multi-year basis to facilitate long-term planning and training. The ability to get so-called "No year funding" is very difficult.

To deal with the problem of appropriated funds being sidetracked and stalled on their way to Emergency Responders, the Task Force recommends:

    • The U.S. House of Representatives should transform the House Select Committee on Homeland Security into a standing committee and give it a formal, leading role in the authorization of all emergency responder expenditures in order to streamline the federal budgetary process.
    • The U.S. Senate should consolidate emergency preparedness and response oversight into the Senate Government Affairs Committee. The Senate did agree to a single DHS appropriation bill (both the Senate and House have passed a version that will go to conference after the August recess). But it is very unlikely that a single committee will be given control in the 109th Congress over both the DHS and the statutes that it administers.
    • Congress should require the DHS to work with other federal agencies to streamline homeland security grants to reduce unnecessary duplication and to establish coordinated "one-stop shopping" for state and local authorities seeking grants.
    • States should develop a prioritized list of requirements in order to ensure that federal funding is allocated to achieve the best possible return on investments.  Congress should ensure that all future appropriations bills for emergency responders include strict distribution timelines. These suggestions reflect current deficiencies and may see some fixes by FY 2005.
    • The DHS should move the Office of Domestic Preparedness from the Bureau of Border and Transportation Security to the Office of State and Local Government Coordination in order to consolidate oversight of grants to emergency responders within the office of the Secretary. This comment was directed to the oddity that the Office of Domestic Preparedness (ODP), transferred from the Department of Justice, is not in the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate. This office has the response to terrorism mission while EP&R has the response to all other events mission, a split that makes no sense except to reflect the parentage of the organization (ODP) as not being FEMA.