Funding the Federal Government is Never an Easy Task
Each year, Congress must approve funding measures so that the federal agencies can perform their functions. The process, established by our forefathers many years ago, authorizes both the House and Senate to approve 12 separate spending measures. The slightest difference between a House and Senate bill will require the two chambers to convene a conference committee to reconcile any differences before the two chambers vote on final approval for a spending bill before sending it to the White House for the President’s signature.
Since 1977, Congress has approved all the spending measures that were signed into laws by the President four times – in 1977, 1989, 1995, and 1997. When the process has failed, and the federal government was on the verge of a shutdown, Congress has resorted to temporary spending measures called continuing resolutions. These are short-term spending measures that allow the federal government to hobble along at existing funding levels until Congress can reach an agreement on regular appropriations legislation.
Despite the media reports of gridlock in Washington, DC, Congress has made significant progress on appropriations legislation for Fiscal Year 2019. Before the end of Fiscal Year 2018 (September 30th) the House and Senate approved five appropriations measures – the most since 1997. These measures contain 75 percent of all discretionary spending.
Unfortunately, the measure that funds the Department of Homeland Security was not among the five bills. It is one of seven appropriations measures that Congress will consider in a lame duck session following the November elections. In the interim, Congress approved a continuing resolution that will allow the federal agencies funded by these measures to operate through December 7. Hopefully, Congress can complete its work by then.
The Homeland Security appropriations bill contains the funds for the major programs that benefit the fire service, including the Assistance to Firefighters and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant programs, the United States Fire Administration/National Fire Academy and the Urban Search and Rescue Response System. When Congress first began discussions on the FY19 DHS appropriations measure, the national fire service organizations weighed in. Their government affairs representatives conducted a series of meetings on Capitol Hill with staff members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee, while the organizations themselves issued a joint letter requesting increased support for all four programs.
We have presented our case for Fiscal Year 2019. But in a few short months, we’ll begin the process again for Fiscal Year 2020. Congress understands the dangers inherent in our profession. But not all members understand why the federal government should provide the level of support we seek each year. When meeting with members
of Congress to discuss funding issues, it is imperative that we can convey to them why the need is so great. Among the reasons we share with our federal legislators is the fire service responds to over 35 million calls, annually; our firefighters must be properly trained and equipped to respond to all emergencies, including man-made and natural disasters and local budgets cannot keep pace with the rising cost of equipment and training.
CFSI and the other national fire organizations depend on first responders at the local level to help us carry our message forward to Congress. With rising deficits and calls for spending cuts to reduce the size of the deficit, we must remain vigilant on Capitol Hill and continue educating our federal legislators about supporting our local first responders.
I encourage you to use CFSI as a resource to learn how you can help us in our mission — or contact one of the other national fire organizations of which you are a member and ask how you can help them deliver the message. Working together, we can continue to make a difference for the fire service in Washington, DC.
Bill Webb has served as Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute since 1995. CFSI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy institute designed to enhance congressional awareness about the concerns and needs of the fire and emergency services. As Executive Director, he works closely with members of Congress and fire service leaders to sustain support on Capitol Hill for programs and legislation that benefit our nation’s fire and emergency services. Before joining CFSI, Webb worked for the Firefighter Combat Challenge as the project manager for the competition. He currently serves as Vice Chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and is an honorary member of the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department, the Delaware Volunteer Firefighters’ Association and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 36.
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