Navigating our role in homeland security

Kristina A. Tanasichuk
Senior Manager of Government Relations
APWA Washington Office

I have a great job. Working for APWA, I am tasked every day with managing emergency management and homeland security issues for the association, and with educating Congress, federal agencies and the outside "world" about the critical role of public works in every aspect of daily life. It doesn't get much better than this!

When I meet a congressional staff member and begin to talk about public works, I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "Wow, I never thought of that!" And that, I am happy to report, is changing. People on Capitol Hill and in the national organizations represented in Washington, D.C. have realized that it is critical to the nation's security and to the health of our cities that people across the nation and the globe, understand what public works does and how public works helps them get to work safely every day; assures that they have safe, clean drinking water; builds and maintains the city's infrastructure; responds to, recovers from and mitigates against natural and man-made disasters. From repairing the roads we drive to work on, to responding to the nation's most devastating terrorist attack, the role of public works is unmistakable.

And, we've been called upon for an even higher "profile" service. The President, Congress and other organizations recognize that we are first responders in the event of a terrorist attack. The powers that be are slowly but surely realizing that there is no response without the barricades. There is no response if fire and police don't know which buildings they can enter safely. There is no response if public works personnel don't establish safe passages and safe areas to protect emergency responders and the public. There is no response if the water doesn't flow through the fire hoses.

It's not a hard story to sell.

Of course, our blessing is also our curse. The fact that public works manages everything from transportation to water to emergency response to sanitation, to fleets, to numerous other responsibilities depending on the jurisdiction, causes some confusion among the powers that be and with the public. And so we do not fit into a neat "niche" and each community across America has tailored "public works" to fit their geographical area, legal authority and political needs.

But ultimately, this gives us the opportunity to define who we are, what we want, and what we need to serve the nation effectively. Right now in Washington, D.C., the politicians are going through their usual gyrations over who got what billion in the President's Fiscal Year 2005 budget. Where is the billion for public works? That is not really a rhetorical question. Our charge here at APWA for the next several months is to figure out what you need to successfully accomplish your responsibilities in the arena of homeland security. We have initiated a project to answer Congress' unfailing question...what does your organization need? And we are asking you, our members, to help us think through this monumental task and to prepare the nation for a future that requires us all to think a bit differently.

I look forward to working with all of you to make the needs of public works in the homeland security arena as unmistakable as our critical role in the daily life of every American.

Kristina A. Tanasichuk can be reached at (202) 408-9541 or at ktanasichuk@apwa.net.

HMGP Update: Although the President's FY2005 budget is silent on the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), APWA has found out that the Office of Management and Budget has left funding for the program at 7.5 percent and has requested only $150 million for the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program. This is the same level of funding as these programs received in the last two years despite the Administration's attempts last year to eliminate the HMGP. These amounts can be increased or decreased during the appropriations process and APWA is working with the Stafford Act Coalition to restore HMGP to 15 percent.