The official start of summer brings four things to the Nation’s Capital – heat, humidity, interns, and the annual “will we have an appropriations bill or not” debate. While all four are in full swing, only one is of concern to the broader alerts & warnings community – the FY 2013 Homeland Security appropriations bill. Continue reading »
The National EAS test and recent CMAS testing have brought the spotlight on the FEMA Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) program from the public and Congress alike. On December 6, 2011, Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) introduced H.R. 3563, the Integrated Public Alert Warning System Modernization Act of 2011. Also, recent statements from Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) indicate her plans to introduce legislation in the Senate soon.
While the path to enacting legislation is not yet certain and the exact language is by no means written in stone, this activity draws attention to the need for the IPAWS program to be formally authorized. Continue reading »
As Washington begins its summer in earnest, Congress is looking to complete (some would argue “start” is a more appropriate word given the pace of recent activity) its work funding Federal government for Fiscal Year 2011 (FY2011), which beings on October 1, 2010. The annual appropriations process can be the epitome of inside baseball when it comes to Washington – terms like “302b allocation,” “discretionary spending,” “mandatory spending,” “budget authority,” “budget outlay,” etc. can be as difficult to understand for those outside the beltway as an American trying to decipher a cricket rulebook. However, the outcome of this process – funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and all other Federal agencies – is incredibly important to the alerts and warnings community, as well as all members of the homeland security enterprise. The following provides a summary of the current state of FY2011 appropriations.
The President requested $56.336 billion for DHS in FY2011. This represents approximately $1 billion more than the previous fiscal year. This funding is distributed across all DHS components including FEMA, the Science & Technology Directorate, ICE, CBP, and other agencies. Within FEMA is the National Continuity Programs Directorate (NCP), which houses the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) program. The request for IPAWS funding is $38.646 million, which is approximately $1.5 million more than the Office received in FY2010. This would fund the IPAWS Office’s procurements, staff, and activities for the coming fiscal year. In its request to Congress, FEMA highlighted the following as one of the major milestones it seeks to accomplish in FY2011: “Deploy initial operational capability of IPAWS Aggregator and Gateway supporting Commercial Mobile Alerting System [CMAS] Federal alert testing with cellular industry.” The FEMA IPAWS Office is not the sole office within DHS relevant to AWARE readers. The Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) conducts significant research, development, testing, evaluation, and standards work related to IPAWS as well as CMAS. The DHS appropriations bill will also shape how these research efforts progress.
Outside DHS, other areas of focus are the Department of Commerce and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). These Federal agencies play a key role in implementing the President’s National Broadband Plan (see http://www.broadband.gov/ for more details). How funding is potentially distributed to these agencies in order to advance the plan is of interest to the alerts & warnings community and can also signal where future Federal broadband investments are going to be made.
Given the billions in funding on the line for the next year – what is the status? According to Congress’s official budget rules, the current Congress is woefully behind (which is nothing new). Few appropriations bills have been debated (“marked-up” in DC-speak) in the relevant committees, let alone have moved to the House or Senate floor for votes. While on a calendar, it appears that Congress has plenty of time before the September 30th deadline, it is important to note that Congress will not be in Washington for the entire month of August.
Adding to the time pressure are the upcoming mid-term elections. Work in Congress will slow as each party will begin (or “continue,” depending on your views) posturing its work to “score points” with the American public at the expense of the opposition party. Typically, the more posturing, the less likely it is that consensus can be reached and progress made.
The second impact is that recent special elections, and the general tone of the nation, have indicated that reducing Federal spending is a key priority. Therefore, members of both parties are going to emphasize to their constituents how they are fiscally responsible and good stewards of taxpayer funds. This will result in increased pressure to reduce Federal spending this fiscal year. How this pressure will manifest appropriations legislation is difficult to predict, but it is clear that cuts will be made and funding increases will be few and far between.
In terms of the appropriations end-game, there are a few scenarios.
- Congress completes all appropriations bills (12 in total) and they are signed into law by September 30 – highly unlikely.
- Congress completes none of the work and needs to pass a continuing resolution in order to keep the government funded at minimal levels (keep the lights on, etc.) until the appropriations bills can be passed – more likely.
- Congress lumps its appropriations bills into one big bill (called an omnibus) or a handful of small bills (called minibuses) – the most likely scenario. While this funds the government, it limits the debate on individual issues since the overall bill becomes “must pass” for members of Congress.
As the summer continues, we’ll continue to watch the annual drama unfold. How do annual Federal appropriations impact you?