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Task Force Finds Congress Hinders Emergency Preparedness

Citing red tape and a highly politicized appropriations process, members of a task force on emergency responders told Congress it needs to take steps to help avert another terrorist strike.

The Council on Foreign Relations-sponsored Independent Task Force on Emergency Responders — led by the likes of former Sen. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.) — studied the issue of emergency preparedness in the United States and found the government unprepared for another Sept. 11, 2001-style terrorist attack.

In addition to its critique of first-responder preparedness, the task force found that “funding for emergency responders has been sidetracked and stalled due to a politicized appropriations process, slowness in the distribution of funds by federal agencies, and bureaucratic red tape at all levels of government.”

Among its recommendations to Congress was transforming the House Select Committee on Homeland Security into a standing committee with the lead role in authorizing all emergency responder expenditures.

For the Senate’s part, the task force advises that the chamber consolidate emergency preparedness oversight into the Governmental Affairs Committee.

A spokeswoman for the House panel said that currently, the committee is “focusing on the day to day.” Furthermore, the committee is charged with reporting back to Congress on whether it should become a permanent panel at the end of next year. To say so sooner “would be premature” Elizabeth Tobias said.

Senate Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins embraced the report’s suggestions, spokeswoman Andrea Hofelich said. Sen. Collins “does support the recommendation to consolidate emergency preparedness and response oversight into the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee,” she said.

Furthermore, Congress should include strict timelines for monetary distributions to emergency responders in future appropriations bills as well, the task force suggested.

The panel also had several ideas aimed specifically at the Homeland Security Department and Congress’ oversight of it.

For instance, the task force said Congress should require it to work with the Health and Human Services Department in submitting a coordinated plan for meeting identified national preparedness standards by the end of fiscal 2007.

Furthermore, the committee advised Congress to “establish a system for allocating scarce resources based less on dividing the spoils and more on addressing identified threats and vulnerabilities.”

For the complete report, see the Council on Foreign Relations Web site at www.cfr.org.