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The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, highlighted the critical role first responders play at the state and local level when a disaster or emergency strikes. In fiscal years 2002 and 2003, Congress appropriated approximately $13.9 billion for domestic preparedness. A large portion of these funds were for the nation's first responders to enhance their ability to address future emergencies, including potential terrorist attacks. These funds are primarily to assist with planning, equipment purchases, training and exercises, and administrative costs. They are available to first responders mainly through the State Homeland Security Grant Programs and Urban Area Security Initiative grants. Both programs are administered through the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Domestic Preparedness. In this testimony, GAO addressed the need to balance expeditious distribution of first responder funds to states and localities with accountability for effective use of those funds and summarized major findings related to funding distribution delays and delays involving funds received by local governments, as presented in reports issued by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General and the House Select Committee on Homeland Security. The testimony incorporated supporting evidence on first-responder funding issues based on ongoing GAO work in selected states.

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