June 5, 2006 | WebMemo on National Security and Defense
Members of Congress have
raised concerns over the recently announced distribution of Urban
Area Security Initiative (UASI) grants. The Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) has spent over two years developing a process to
allocate grants in a manner that meets national priorities. That is
the way that grants should be allocated. If DHS has properly used
this system in disbursing UASI funds, it should demonstrate that to
Congress. Meanwhile, Congress can help ensure grants go where they
are needed most by repealing legislative mandates that allocate
grants without respect to risk or needs.
Homeland Security Grants 101
Grants are not entitlements. Local governments bear the primary responsibility for public safety. Federal dollars support the federal government's unique responsibilities -integrating state and local assets into a national preparedness and response system and ensuring the capacity to respond to catastrophic disasters that would overwhelm any state or local government. Grants should be used to support these missions. With that in mind, DHS developed a comprehensive approach for best spending federal tax dollars to meet federal priorities, allocating grants to address the most critical demands. DHS established national standards (for responding to terrorist attacks and natural disasters) and essential required capabilities (such as medical assets and evacuation plans) for both urban and rural areas. States and cities are supposed to submit grant proposals based on these standards. DHS is supposed to evaluate the proposals and award grants to applicants with the highest priority requests who can most effectively spend the money. For two years, DHS has told Congress that this is how grants would be distributed.
UASI Grants Cause Concern
Last week, DHS announced the allocation of UASI grants, which go directly to major urban areas. Some congressional leaders balked when the results called for a decrease in the sums going to some of the largest urban areas, including a 40 percent cut for New York, while smaller cities that had not qualified before received grants. Addressing these concerns should be easy. If DHS faithfully followed the process it has established, then it should be able to justify its decisions to Congress in short order. If it cannot, then the system needs to fixed-fast. It is far from clear that the billions spent on homeland security grants since 9/11 has been well spent. The administration and Congress must work together to provide better solutions than throwing more money at the problem.
Congress Can Help
Members of Congress do not have to wait for DHS to explain its decisions to help ensure that homeland security grants are spent effectively. They can start now by eliminating legislative mandates that are turning an instrument of national security into another federal entitlement. Congress should: