First Responders and Port Security: A Tale of Cuts and Underfunding

In the wake of the attacks, these stories produced a universal cry for better federal funding for first responders and port security

The September 11th attacks made heroes of ordinary citizens and the firefighters and police officers who sacrificed their lives.

In the wake of the attacks, these stories produced a universal cry for better federal funding for first responders. However, two years later, groups representing emergency personnel claim that the Bush administration is reneging on its pledge to fund first-responder programs.

"We're looking at massive federal cuts," says Rich Roberts, a spokesman for the International Union of Police Associations, which represents more than 100,000 cops in 500 jurisdictions nationwide.

Roberts is referring to proposed cuts in the Bush administration's FY05 federal budget, which he says drastically reduces funding for a number of programs that help prepare police officers to respond to disasters.

The Department of Homeland Security contends that the government is funding first respondersto the tune of $3.6 billion in the FY04 budget, according to spokesman Maggie Meyers. Since 2001, almost $15 billion in federal funding has been allocated to state and local preparedness, with the DHS giving out $8 billion for equipment and training exercises since its inception.

But Roberts says that cuts to community-oriented policing services and cuts to law enforcement grants will undermine the ability of first responders to act effectively in an emergency.

Port Security U.S. seaports are vital to the well-being of the nation's economy, with more than 95 percent of U.S. overseas trade moving by cargo vessels. These seaports have also been dubbed likely targets for terrorist attacks. Despite this, port administrators say, Bush's budget for FY05 does not include the necessary funds to improve port security. Administrators claim the lack of funding will hinder the ports' ability to comply with the federal guidelines for port security created since 9/11.

As far as legislation goes, port security appears to be a priority. In 2002, Bush signed the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA), which mandated regular security assessments of ports and vessels, and compliance with requirements for perimeter and access control, says Michael Leone, director at the Massachusetts Port Authority and a chairman of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA).

However, for Leone, the lack of adequate funding for port security amounts to an unfunded federal mandate. "The feds have implemented requirements, and the FBI has testified that ports are vulnerablenow the government needs to fund port security," he says.

According to the White House, port security funding will increase 13 percent from FY04 to FY05. In addition to the $46 million allotted for port security grants, the president has earmarked $102 million for the Coast Guard to implement the MTSA.

Leone gives the Bush administration credit for increasing funding, but the AAPA doesn't think the increases are enough. The AAPA estimates that $400 million is needed to secure the nation's 361 public ports.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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