Survey: Federal Gov't Not Doing Enough for Local Responders

The federal government's "upside-down" policy of directing homeland security funds to states instead of local governments has kept local emergency responders from effectively protecting their communities, a new survey charges.

The survey of 304 agencies in 23 states by the Democratic Task Force on Homeland Security (search) found that just 16 percent of respondents felt the federal government is doing all it can to address homeland security needs.

"The funding that we have received has not been timely, it has not been adequate, and it is far from being direct," said Baltimore, Md. Mayor Martin O'Malley, who was on Capitol Hill Wednesday for the release of the report.

O'Malley is also chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (search)' Homeland Security Task Force.

But the Federal Emergency Management Agency (search) challenged the findings, noting that the survey is unscientific and reached just a handful of the emergency response agencies in the nation.

"The fact of the matter is that we have made significant increases to first responders," said Chad Kolton, public affairs director for FEMA.

FEMA has created programs to aid emergency responders across the country, he said. For instance, the Assistance to Firefighters program (search) will make 7,000 grants this year.

Some agencies also disagreed with the survey's findings. The Montgomery County, Md. Police Department has daily updates from the federal government on information regarding terrorism and other security related issues, said Capt. John Fitzgerald.

"We know each other on a first-name basis," he said.

O'Malley said Baltimore has spent $17 million in city funds and has only received $6 million in federal funds for homeland security since Sept. 11, 2001.

He thinks the federal government needs to do a better job assessing the vulnerability of areas across the country and tallying the needs of first-responders. The lack of national and state assessments of vulnerability has created "anomalies" in the way federal money for homeland security is spent, O'Malley said.

For instance, the city of Baltimore gets about one-tenth the amount of money to combat bioterrorism as the state of North Dakota does -- even though the city and the state have about the same population.

O'Malley also said bureaucracy has hindered efficient communication between the federal government and front-line emergency workers.

"The thinking that has dominated this administration on homeland security is that all dollars must flow to the 50 states' emergency management agencies," O'Malley said. "That's created a real bottleneck."