Homeland Security Dollars and Sense #4: An End to Pork Barrel Security Grants?
With the New Year
came new requirements for disbursing grants in the Urban Area
Security Initiative, one of the five major programs that the
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses to provide federal funds
to state and local governments. The new guidelines are a step in
the right direction, turning a grant program that was in danger of
becoming pork barrel spending into an effective security tool. DHS
should apply this same approach to all of its assistance programs.
There are also steps that Congress can take to ensure that federal
dollars are spent more wisely.
Better Allocation of
There are three
significant changes to the urban grant program:
Approach Required. Disasters and terrorists do not respect
political boundaries. Only a regional approach to counterterrorism
and disaster response will do. The program now requires neighboring
urban areas (like Dallas-Ft. Worth- Arlington) to submit a single
application for funds that reflects their joint needs.
Priorities First. Federal dollars need to be spent in a way
that makes all Americans safer-that means building a national
system and focusing on the prevention of and response to
catastrophic disasters. The greatest needs have to be funded first
and fully. To determine which urban areas should receive funds,
this year's grant allocations will take into account threat
assessments from the intelligence community; an analysis of
critical infrastructure vulnerability; population density; activity
and investigation reports; and the status of mutual aid
cooperation. This is a sophisticated and fair way to determine
Justification Required. The new system doesn't just throw money
at the problem. Those seeking grants have to explain how federal
dollars will be spent, how their proposals meet strategic
priorities, and how success will be measured.
The Hill can help
make these program improvements even better. Here is how:
- Insist that DHS
establish regional offices to work with states and local
governments to improve mutual aid cooperation.
- Reduce the
minimum allocations of grants to states in the state homeland
security program. By the current formula, only 60 percent of the
funds are allocated based on risk.
- End the "Fire
Grant" program. Providing equipment and hiring firemen for
small-town fire departments is a local responsibility, not a
federal one. Over $2 billion has already been spent.
Combinetransportation and port security grants into a single
program and allocate those funds to assist in information sharing
and counterterrorism activities, not buying fences and hiring gate
DHS has performed
yeoman's work in reforming a wasteful program. Its risk-based
methodology should be applied to all security grants. Congress
should undertake the reforms needed to make the process work even
Jay 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