President Proposes, Congress Disposes. We Hope

On paper the federal budget is a systematic process that follows an established timeline in which both the President and Congress fulfill certain fiduciary responsibilities before the start of each fiscal year. But we all know that the federal budget process is anything but a smooth exercise in fiscal management. Since 1977, Congress and the White House have completed their work on all 12 appropriations before the start of the next fiscal year just four times: 1977, 1989, 1995, and 1997. The likelihood of the legislative and executive branches completing their work before the start of the next fiscal year, which begins on October 1st, appears anything but promising.


Finger pointing has become a popular sport in Washington, DC. But there are no winners, just losers when Congress and the Administration cannot complete their fiduciary responsibilities on time. And unfortunately, it’s the individuals who benefit from the federal programs that lose the most, including the men and women of the fire and emergency services.

Congress has until September 30, 2019 to approve 12 appropriations measures. These measures provide funding for all non-mandatory programs — mandatory programs include but are not limited to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and SNAP programs. The Department of Homeland Security’s appropriation measure is of greatest interest to the fire service. It contains funding for the United States Fire Administration and a number of grant programs, including the Assistance to Firefighters, Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, State Homeland Security and Urban Area Security Initiatives grant programs. The DHS bill also provides funding for immigration and border security, which is why it has become the most contentious and difficult measure to enact.

On June 12th, the House Appropriations Committee took the initial step to fund the Department of Homeland Security when it approved a draft funding measure for Fiscal Year 2020. The bill will increase funding for many programs benefiting the fire service over existing funding levels. The United States Fire Administration would receive $47.225 million (a $1.5 million increase), $750 million for AFG and SAFER (a $50 million increase), and $625 million for the State Homeland Security grant program (a $100 million increase).

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate has not yet taken action on any appropriations legislation. Instead, Senate leaders from both political parties are attempting to reach an agreement with the White House on the debt limit and spending caps before proceeding forward with appropriations legislation. The spending caps are the result of the Budget Control Act of 2011 that required Congress to achieve over $1 trillion in deficit reductions over a 10-year period. Without an agreement to address the spending caps, Congress will be forced to impose draconian cuts on discretionary programs rather than enact increases.

Nothing is ever easy in Washington, DC these days, which is why members of the fire service need to stay engaged with their members of Congress.

The dollar figures contained in the Fiscal Year 2020 House bill for the Department of Homeland Security would continue the trend of steady, increased support for many of our programs, benefiting fire departments and personnel that require additional training, equipment, and staffing to meet their growing demands. That is why we must all engage in the effort to educate our legislators – to educate them about the need for increased federal support for our nation’s first responders.

You should always take advantage of every opportunity to share your message with your elected representatives about the importance of the United States Fire Administrations and the grant programs that benefit public safety. If you attended a class at the National Fire Academy, share with them the value of the training and the impact it will have on your work. If you receive an AFG or SAFER grant, let them know how the grant will enhance your response capabilities. They need to hear this — and they need to hear this from you!

Bill Webb has served as Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute since 1995. CFSI is designed to enhance congressional awareness of the fire and emergency services.

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