With 2003 in the rearview mirror and homeland security funds finally in first responders' hands -- at least in many jurisdictions -- state and local governments hope the grant process will be revised to better meet the nation's security needs.

Reviewing how well the homeland security funding process worked for fiscal 2002 and fiscal 2003 begins with a couple of simple queries of government officials and watchdogs: Did the money get to localities most in need? Is it used most effectively, such as for radio equipment to improve interoperability?

The prevalent answer is no.

That it took too long for the federal government to get funds into state coffers was one of the first and sharpest complaints, and that was just the beginning. Problems didn't dissipate when states finally got the money. Local municipalities complained states either held onto the money too long, or didn't seek input on how to disburse it. Local governments want more say in how to spend it. Some jurisdictions complained states kept the money to cover deficits. In other cases, local police and fire chiefs reportedly made "gentlemen's agreements" about how to spend the money, disregarding the region's best interests.

"If changes aren't made, we'll see the same things in 2004 as we saw in 2003/2002," said Tracey Perkosky, client services director for eCivis, the company that created Grants Locator, a tool that gives state and local governments information on potential funding sources to apply for grants. "Then we'll be two years behind the curve instead of one year behind the curve."

Common Sense Methodology

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is not only taking heat from some states for the delay in getting money to states, but also for the methodology used to award it. Money was distributed to states based primarily on population. Threats, vulnerability and risk assessments were not factors, as most agree they should have been.

States that are considered high profile, like New York and California, gripe that keeping their territories safe costs far more than their reimbursement from the DHS -- they've shelled out millions of dollars in overtime to law enforcement for added critical infrastructure protection and extra airport security during heightened alerts.

States like Wyoming, which have a lower risk of terrorist attacks, have received more funds than their perceived threat level suggests they need.

For fiscal 2003, New York received $320.6 million and Wyoming got $17.7 million, which calculates to $16.98 per capita for New York and $35.80 per capita for Wyoming. The funding formula guarantees each state at least 0.75 percent of funds available, and the remaining 60 percent is based on population.

"These big places that need the money aren't getting it," Perkosky said. "In the meantime, you have these tiny rural communities in the middle of nowhere getting equipment and training."

The DHS would do well to adopt a common sense methodology that protects individual targets rather than sprinkling dollars on everyone, said Harley Rinerson, Colorado's chief information security officer.

"You can take a lot of money and throw it across the board at a lot of different areas and get nothing," Rinerson said. "The normal way you protect against something is you identify a threat, protect against the threat, or you have a high-value target you want to protect from an unknown threat. Spreading money equally to all states so they don't bitch is not the right answer."

Rumblings Within States

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., has been outspoken about the need to restructure the system, so states with greater needs receive adequate funding. "The administration is willing to hand out grants to places Al Qaeda couldn't find on a map, even if they were trying," she said in a press release.

But there are rumblings within states

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor