(CNSNews.com) - Federal budget delays are threatening public safety, according to the head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, who, along with his colleagues, is still waiting to get the extra funding promised in the homeland security bill. Mayors would be the first political leaders to respond to a terrorist strike.
President Bush asked Congress to fund grants for police, fire and other emergency services in his budget, but the Senate failed to pass his or its own version of the budget before adjourning for the year.
Assistant Attorney General Deborah Daniels, in an internal memo, wrote Monday that the Justice Department would not be able to deliver $3.5 billion to assist local first-responders in future terrorist attacks as a result of Congress' inaction.
In response, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino called the Justice Department's decision "very shortsighted."
"It threatens public safety. And it leaves city budgets, already pinched by recession and homeland security spending, in even worse shape," Menino said.
In her memo, Daniels admitted that, "At this point, we can only speculate on the availability of resources for the balance of the fiscal year." Since October, the Justice Department has been operating under a series of continuing resolutions. The current resolution funds the agency through Jan. 11 and, according to Daniels, the department would have to delay the disbursement of homeland security funds until the Fiscal Year 2003 appropriations are final.
"We regret the inconvenience these restrictions on our ability to award funds may cause some of our grantees during this interim period," Daniels wrote.
The memo did little to calm Menino. "Nearly 15 months after the attack on America, cities have inexplicably still not received any significant direct first responder funding from Washington," he said.
Cities wanted the money for planning, training, equipment and first-response exercises as part of a state-by-state coordinated response plan.
Senate Republicans blame Democrats for tying up the funding bill while they controlled the chamber during the past year and the GOP promises to solve the problem when it takes over control of the Senate in January.
"The Senate Democratic leadership failed to fund first-responders through the appropriations process," Ron Bonjean, spokesman for incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott told CNSNews.com Thursday.
"When Congress returns with a new Republican Senate majority, we will pass funding for first-responders by the president's State of the Union address," he said.
Presidents usually give State of the Union addresses in January. It is not known yet when President Bush will deliver his.
Bonjean also said first-responder proposals continue to be drawn up while Congress is in recess. They will return to work next month.
However, Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, blamed the Bush administration for not making the money available.
He said the Justice Department statement "follows a pattern of Bush holding highly-trumpeted photo-ops with first responders and then consequently rejecting money for them."
"Specifically, President Bush used a veto threat to kill Democratic legislation for $550 million in emergency grants for first responders immediately after September 11th. Then, in August of 2002, Bush outright rejected $150 million for first responders, vetoing a portion of a bipartisan supplemental appropriations Bill," he said.
E-mail a news tip to Jim Burns.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.