Grants Gaining Traction on Reducing Risk, Chertoff Says

Law Enforcement Terrorism Protection grants eliminated in favor of adjustments to the Urban Area Security Initiative and State Homeland Security Program.

by / July 31, 2008

Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced $1.69 billion in homeland security grants that were awarded to states, local governments and Indian tribes to help them prevent, protect against and respond to acts of terrorism and other hazards and emergencies. But among the details of how the funding for homeland security grants is changing, Secretary Chertoff also intimated something else: That the prospect of a secure homeland is an approachable reality.

"We have reduced our vulnerabilities. I mean, almost $30 billion in funds pays off. A lot of the cities and states [have] better tools, better capabilities. So we've been able to draw down some of the risk as far as the vulnerabilities are concerned," he said.

Accordingly, the funding has become more targeted. "If I compare where we are now to where we were when I came in 2005, you know, I remember in 2005 when I had been reading stories previously about money being spent on, you know, dog biscuits and leather jackets or whatever," Chertoff said.

Grant funding will now focus on "projects that are capital investments, or are investments in training and capabilities and not investments in simply regular operating expenses," he said.

Going forward, the Department of Homeland Security will start looking more closely at the applications for grant funding coming in and start shifting priorities to other communities or other types of programs when it starts seeing requests for things that look more like ordinary, necessary expenses rather than investments in real terrorism capabilities. Chertoff doesn't want Homeland Security grants to turn into a revenue sharing program or a block grant program.

"It seems to me that if a community doesn't feel a need for homeland security money, they ought to say, 'look, we think we've achieved what we need to achieve with Homeland Security and maybe that money ought to be directed to other programs or maybe we ought to apply for some other kind of thing,'" Chertoff said. "What I don't want to do is define Homeland Security so broadly that it ceases to have the discipline that I think we've imposed on the program as we go forward."

The DHS has a target capabilities list where the agency has analyzed the things it thinks communities need to have to be prepared, and as they meet those capabilities, Chertoff said, they will have less to apply for. Although he declined to give a timetable as to when the DHS would cease providing grants to improve state and local homeland security capabilities, Chertoff did say "I think it's important that we continue to ask this question every year or two." Adding, "communities have to be honest with themselves about whether they have the capabilities they need to defend, if there is a terrorist attack or a catastrophic, natural hazard event."

Improvements in the Grant Process

One of the changes that Chertoff talked about was the issue of continuity in the grant process from year to year, which is something communities had asked for, he said, because it allows them to plan on a multi-year basis.

Another change he talked about is the elimination of the Law Enforcement Terrorism Protection grants. In their place, Congress required at least 25 percent of the Urban Area Security Initiative and State Homeland Security money be focused on law enforcement, which translates to a $66 million increase in grants focused on state and local law enforcement.

This year, the DHS, at the request of Congress, plans to go back and detail what it has bought and what kind of impact it has had on making the United States safer. "We've put a lot of money in the system and now we want to see what type of impact

we've had and what our recognition in Congress is going to be to move on with the project," David Paulison, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said.

"What we're doing is going back through the existing data that we have with all of the investment justifications, the state reports that have been put in over the last five years and going through that information to determine what capabilities have been derived through this financial federal assistance, [and] measuring that up against the target capabilities list," Ross Ashley, assistant administrator for grant programs for FEMA. "Now, some of this will be going back to before we had a target capabilities list," he continued. "So, the measurements will be an approximation when we go back previous to '06. But, more importantly, this is going to put together a rigorous analytical capability that will be used year over year to analyze the impacts that the grants are having."

FEMA is using both preparedness officers out in the field as well as preparedness officers in Washington that interact with grant recipients on a daily basis.

As for the process used to award these grants, it continues to be a peer-review process. "I am hopeful that this process of disciplined risk-based funding, which puts the most money where the most risk is and does it in a way that's transparent and has continuity I'm hoping this is a really good harbinger for the future and that we will be able to continue to move forward with what I think is actually probably at this point one of the best designed and most risk-oriented and efficient grant programs across the entire federal government," Chertoff said.

Focus on IEDs

Chertoff said the agency was continuing to focus on critical national preparedness capabilities. A particular focus, he noted, was the deterrence, prevention and protection against the use improvised explosive devices, which is any "bomb that was not manufactured as part of a military program or some institutionalized way of making bombs, but one that terrorists put together to blow people up."