Homeland Security Grant Bill Needs Revision But Is a Step in the Right Direction
House Select Committee on Homeland Security has unanimously
approved the Faster and Smarter Funding for First Responders Act
(H.R. 3266), which is intended to reform the distribution of
homeland security grants to state and local governments. This
long-overdue legislation would restructure a wasteful bureaucratic
process, but further measures should be added to improve oversight,
accountability, and efficiency.
Funding for emergency responders has
increased dramatically since the September 11 attacks, rising to
over $4.5 billion in fiscal year 2004. The Department of Homeland
Security oversees the distribution of the lion's share of these
grants but lacks the means to distribute funds in line with its
strategic priorities, national standards by which to assess the
effectiveness of state and local programs, and processes to
distribute funds quickly and effectively. Congress should establish
a national framework to bring fiscal discipline to the system and
ensure that the two greatest strategic needs--linking federal,
state, and local assets in an integrated national response system
and preparing the nation to deal with catastrophic terrorist
attacks--are met first.
Federal funds cannot, and should not be expected to, meet
all of the nation's homeland security needs. Public safety is a
shared responsibility, with states, counties, and cities
accountable for providing staffs, equipment, and services. Grants
from Washington should be used as incentives to ensure effective
integration of federal, state, and local assets into a true
national capacity to conduct domestic counterterrorism and disaster
3266 provides the basis for building this system through a more
thoughtful, responsive, and judicious grant-making process. Its
important features include:
- Requiring well-defined nation-al goals for
terrorism preparedness, a determination of essential capabilities
needed by state and local entities, and national standards.
- Establishing specific penalties,
incentives, and restrictions to ensure the efficient and quick
distribution of funds and promote cooperative regional programs
that will enable communities to share resources effectively.
- Requiring that grant applications be
ranked by their contribution to the national capacity to respond to
- Establishing a national advisory task
force to help define essential capabilities.
- Requiring recipients to report on how
funds will be used to provide essential capabilities and assess the
effectiveness of monies spent in improving preparedness. (This
process will allow for performance-based budgeting, the setting of
performance requirements without specifying the exact methods, and
maximum flexibility for states and local governments in determining
how best to meet their unique security needs.)
Other provisions of the bill require modifications or
additions to ensure that the grant-making process is responsive to
the needs of the national homeland security strategy and makes the
best use of available resources. Specifically, the bill should:
exempt existing programs--such as Fire, Emergency
Management Planning and Assistance, and Public Safety and Community
Policing (COPS) grants--from the new criteria. These
special-interest grants should be abolished and the funds
consolidated under a single program to allow them to be targeted on
the greatest strategic needs.
for two successive annual reports to work out procedures for
developing criteria and then switch to quadrennial reports instead
of requiring annual reports to establish essential capabilities.
Issuing reports every four years would better allow for
establishing long-term programs, while annual reports might whipsaw
requirements back and forth every year.
the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services
to harmonize their grant processes so that states and local
governments do not have to submit duplicative plans and
requirements. This would greatly facilitate achieving the goal of
one-stop shopping for domestic security assistance. A provision in
the Homeland Security Grant Enhancement Act of 2003 (S. 1245),
sponsored by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), includes suitable
provisions to address this issue.
responsibility for determining essential capabilities to the Office
of State and Local Government Coordination, not the Undersecretary
of Preparedness and Response as currently written. The Coordination
Office should be required to set standards and oversee the
distribution of grants for all the critical missions areas defined
by the national homeland security strategy, including intelligence
and early warning, border and transportation security, domestic
counterterrorism, protecting critical infrastructure, defending
against catastrophic threats, and emergency preparedness and
oversight of the process to the Homeland Security Council. The
council represents all the federal agencies with a significant
interest in homeland security and should have appropriate
responsibilities to ensure that all critical national needs are
addressed in defining essential capabilities.
- Establish a separate and independent
organization within the Department of Homeland Security to evaluate
the effectiveness of the grant program, particularly in improving
readiness. This would ensure that programs are assessed by an
"honest broker" not specifically engaged in the task of setting
standards or issuing grants.
that the advisory task force be nonpartisan.
- Establish more definitive criteria for
determining the priority of funding. Legislation should require a
minimum level of essential capabilities for all states, but
specific criteria must be established to ensure that the
preponderance of funds is directed toward meeting the highest
Getting the framework for providing assistance to state
and local governments right is essential for the future security of
the United States. The war on global terrorism will be a protracted
conflict; the U.S. needs a well-structured, affordable homeland
security architecture that will help to protect Americans for
decades to come.
Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National
Security and Homeland Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom
Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage