Federal Mind Control

When you take the money — then they own you!

I went back to look if I had shared my April International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) Disaster Zone column. I could not find it in my old posts, but then, we did shift to a new content management system, so it is possible I’m duplicating a previous posting.

Check out the item below that is about federal grant money. I’ve chased grant funding with the best of them. But when you take the money, you have to meet the grant guidance that directs the specifics for what is eligible to be funded. What if there weren’t any federal directives or federal funding? How would you set your priorities then?

Federal Mind Control

We have a federal system so states are not beholden to the Federal government except for those specific areas designated in the constitution of the United States. Interstate commerce is an example of Federal direct influence into state affairs. How then does the Federal government exact control over state and local emergency management programs?

Control of our emergency management activities comes via the form of Federal grants. When you take the money—that is when you have to dance to the tune of the people writing the checks. If you want Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG), the most flexible grant we receive, you have to report on your activities and there are certain things you can’t do with the funding. It should be noted that states who administer those funds may also put guidance on the funding and it is they who establish the allocations down to local jurisdictions identifying who can and cannot get funding.

The pots of money in some other grant programs primarily came about after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. For example, each state will get State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSP) funds. The allocation for those funds has had different criteria over the years. A population baseline amount and then some form of risk profile rating has been the norm. This type of grant is specifically where the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) becomes more assertive and stipulates what activities are acceptable for funding, and in more recent years they have set detailed funding percentages that must be spent on specific categories of preparedness or protection activities.

These priorities have changed over time. Take for instance, the recent grant guidance that has come out for 2021. See this information extracted from a February DHS news release:

“As the threats to our nation evolve, so too must the grant programs intended to prepare communities for those threats. To that end, DHS has identified five critical priority areas for attention in the FY 2021 grant cycle: cybersecurity, soft targets and crowded places, intelligence and information sharing, domestic violent extremism, and emerging threats. Grant recipients under the State Homeland Security Program and Urban Area Security Initiative will be required to dedicate a minimum of 30% of awards to address these five priority areas: cybersecurity (7.5%, an increase of at least $25 million across the country); soft target and crowded places (5%); information and intelligence sharing (5%); domestic violent extremism (7.5%); and emerging threats (5%).”

The mind control and the activity control for what we do in emergency management is largely influenced via these grant funds. I’ve often wondered what we as emergency managers would do if the funds came to us as Emergency Management Block Grants. There would be no EMPG, SHSP, Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), just one big pot of money that could be allocated to any purpose, fire, law enforcement, medical, cybersecurity, new vehicles, drones, T-shirts, coats, anything you wanted!

Just how would you allocate the funds? Who would decide the allocation of funds—with no restrictions on the amount of allocation to any one purpose? People sometimes complain about all the rules we have to follow with grant applications, but then they do provide “cover” against those who complain about the process.

Lastly, what if there were no grant funds at all? How then would you spend your time and precious staff resources, should you have any—since without Federal grants the size and scope of many emergency management programs would be seriously diminished?

Love them or hate them, I don’t’ see many people deciding not to compete for Federal grants. You take the money and then you have to do the work—according to the rules that Uncle Sugar has laid out. Our minds and actions are being bent to that of the Federal government.


by Eric E. Holdeman, Senior Fellow, Emergency Management Magazine. He blogs at www.disaster-zone.com  His Podcast is at Disaster Zone
Eric Holdeman is a nationally known emergency manager. He has worked in emergency management at the federal, state and local government levels. Today he serves as the Director, Center for Regional Disaster Resilience (CRDR), which is part of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER). The focus for his work there is engaging the public and private sectors to work collaboratively on issues of common interest, regionally and cross jurisdictionally.
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