On March 31,
2005, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released the
Interim National Preparedness Goal and Target Capabilities
List (TCL). The list provides national standards for
building a national disaster preparedness and response system to
deal with man-made and natural catastrophes. States and local
communities should be using the TLC as a blueprint for using their
homeland security grants. However, the DHS has done too little to
help state and local governments make smart choices.
a system that maximizes the use of their tax dollars and minimizes
waste in as transparent and objective a manner as possible.
Congress should do more to ensure that the DHS uses the TCL to
build a national disaster preparedness and response system.
Efforts Since 9/11
After the attacks
on September 11, 2001, Congress appropriated billions of dollars
without first establishing a system and strategy to guide
allocations to increase national preparedness. While Congress
needed to appropriate some funds to close obvious gaps immediately,
the exigencies of the moment no longer justify continuing to
allocate funds without clear standards and priorities.
assessments of emergency response capabilities revealed that the
U.S. lacked the capacity to prepare for and respond to disasters in
an integrated and effective manner. Response assets in the public
and private sectors could not be marshaled across cities,
states, and the nation to deal with large-scale disasters. Building
a truly national system that respects the principles of federalism
and creates the capacity for joint action requires establishing
national standards that define the essential capabilities that
communities need in order to take care of themselves and cooperate
Presidential Directive No. 8 required the DHS to establish national
standards for disaster preparedness and response. These
standards were to respect federalism, allowing for
flexibility and acknowledging that local leaders who would
lead the local response to any disaster would know how best to
organize and equip local responders. In addition, the standards had
to be adaptive, recognizing that the needs of states and
communities would vary because of local conditions, such as
geography and population.
In the process of
establishing national standards, the DHS:
the national planning scenarios.
The national planning
scenarios involve 15 scenarios along the chemical, biological,
radiological, nuclear, and explosives spectrum, as well as an
earthquake, a hurricane, and a pandemic flu outbreak. Each scenario
tests from prevention capabilities to recovery capabilities.
target capabilities list.
Using the 15 national planning
scenarios, the DHS worked closely with thousands of experts from
government (federal, state, and local), nongovernmental
organizations, and the private sector to compile a list of tasks
that would need to be done to prevent, respond to, or recover
from each of the 15 scenarios. From a list of roughly 1,600 tasks,
the DHS-led team identified approximately the top 200 critical
tasks from the 15 scenarios. Experts identified the capabilities
that would be needed to perform each task successfully.
Because the capabilities were derived from both terrorist and
natural disaster scenarios, the TCL is an all-hazards tool
featuring many dual-use elements. The TCL originally contained
36 critical capabilities, but an additional capability was added
based on experience during the response to Hurricane Katrina. The
DHS continues to review other possible capabilities for inclusion.
Each capability includes specific components such as equipment
needs, personnel and training requirements, and performance and
preparedness measures and metrics.
The scenarios and
capabilities list addressed a long-standing glaring shortfall in
national leadership by providing standards for performance and
capabilities that could be used to assess the readiness of
responders and to identify additional capabilities that are
needed to make Americans safer. The next step was ensuring that
federal, state, and local entities worked together to turn these
plans into action.
The Rubber Doesn't
Always Meet the Road
By the end of
fiscal year 2007, the DHS alone will have allocated nearly $20
billion to state and local governments for homeland security, yet
the DHS still lacks the ability to determine how closely state and
local governments are following its standards. While the department
has a high-level (by broad category) concept of how states spend
homeland security grants, these data do not provide a clear picture
of progress toward national standards. The DHS has not conducted a
national capabilities assessment since 2003, two years before the
release of the TCL. As a result, the department does not really
know-in fact, no one really knows-what capabilities state and local
governments have and whether or not they are enough and of the
right kind to contribute to the national disaster preparedness
and response system.
Congress has not
helped. The House of Representatives and the Senate have
devoted scant attention to implementing national standards.
Instead, Congress continues to wrestle with funding formulas
and other grant-related issues, failing even to analyze whether
additional funds are needed and why they are needed.
By focusing on
allocation rather than results, Congress continues to treat
homeland security grants as simply another entitlement, not as a
national security instrument. Congress seems to be turning homeland
security grants into pork-barrel legislation, ignoring the 9/11
Commission's specific warning against this danger. By crafting
legislative grant formulas that guarantee every state and city some
federal dole for homeland security, Congress ensures that it spends
a little on everything and does nothing well. This approach might
be acceptable for some federal grant programs, but it is not
acceptable in matters of national security.
security grants were based solely on the TCL, Congress could
discontinue the formulaic allocation of grants. One of the key
benefits of moving to a TCL-based system is that it would
enable the DHS to build an effective national system by allowing
the department to guide investments, better gauge where the
most significant shortfalls exist, and determine how best to
compensate for any gaps in state and local capabilities.
system would allow the DHS to cease simply doling out federal
dollars to states and cities. After receiving millions in federal
funds to build the appropriate level of TCL capabilities, a
jurisdiction could then use a robust exercise program to test
the competency of its capabilities. Such a system would allow the
DHS to report the state of the nation's preparedness with a high
degree of accuracy to the President, Congress, and-most
important-the American people. With this increased awareness,
taxpayers could pressure their respective political leaders to
ensure that their jurisdictions are doing all that they can to
be prepared. The DHS and Congress could use the system to
create incentives and disincentives for compliance and
noncompliance with timelines and requirements.
The DHS could
then focus all grant funding to build only those capabilities on
the TCL and only to the levels appropriate for each eligible
jurisdiction. For example, New York City clearly needs a top-level
urban search and rescue capability, while Des Moines, Iowa, may
only need a third-level or fourth-level urban search and rescue
capability. Conversely, as an urban jurisdiction, New York City
likely does not need a top-level food and agriculture safety and
defense capability, whereas Des Moines likely should have a
top-level food and agriculture safety and defense capability, given
the large numbers of animals and quantities of agriculture
products that enter the U.S. food supply from Iowa. The key is
to create a robust system that can accommodate the particular
needs of each jurisdiction.
Using a common
objective (defined in this case as a set of capabilities identified
after thousands and thousands of comments, multiple national
reviews, and many meetings and conferences involving thousands of
experts from across the country and from all levels of government,
NGOs, and the private sector) allows the DHS to review a
request based on the answers to four questions:
Would the request
build a capability on the TCL?
Does the requesting
jurisdiction need that capability?
Would the request
close an existing gap?
Is closing this
capability gap in this jurisdiction important enough relative
to other needs to justify using limited grant funds to grant the
If the answer to
any of these questions is "No," the DHS should deny the request and
give the explanation that matches the question:
is not on the TCL,
jurisdiction does not need the capability,
jurisdiction already has already built that capability up to a
sufficient level, or
The funding is
needed to close capability gaps that have higher priorities.
Such a system
would provide jurisdictions with clear and concrete explanations of
why their requests were rejected and indicate possible avenues
for appealing the decision or avoiding the same mistake in future
transparency and objectivity provided by using the TCL to allocate
resources, the finite funds could be sent to the highest-risk
jurisdictions with the most pressing capability gaps. Under this
structure, if New York City and Omaha, Nebraska, were seeking funds
to build allowable and needed capabilities, New York City's higher
overall risk score would favor giving the grant to New York
approach would also allow applicants to engage in meaningful,
concrete strategic planning focused on building the right suite of
capabilities. Applicants have legitimately complained that
past and current DHS grant requirements necessitate a
considerable amount of work that adds little value, as noted by the
Government Accountability Office:
Reports by GAO
and DHS's Office of Inspector General, as well as by the House
Homeland Security Committee, have identified the need for clear
national guidance in defining the appropriate level of
preparedness and setting priorities to achieve it. The lack of
such guidance has in the past been identified as hindering state
and local efforts to prioritize their needs and plan how best to
allocate their homeland security funding. We have reported that
national preparedness standards that can be used to assess
existing first responder capacities, identify gaps in those
capacities, and measure progress in achieving specific performance
goals are essential to effectively managing federal first
responder grant funds as well as to the ability to measure progress
and provide accountability for the use of public funds.
One senior DHS
official who has reviewed thousands of pages of those unfunded
mandates has remarked that it is impossible to ascertain any
consistent quantitative and qualitative pattern or result within
and across jurisdictions. With the TCL, a long-term effort can then
become the structural basis for future investment
justifications, enabling applicants to stay ahead of the curve
rather than fall behind, which necessarily happens when the
decision-making process is opaque and unpredictable.
intense congressional oversight of the grants, nothing less than a
fully transparent and objective system will satisfy Congress, the
media, and the applicants. It would certainly be better than the
current subjective system that invites speculation and leads
to greater politicization of the grants.
Building a Better
Based on the
national disaster preparedness and response standards that have
been defined by the Department of Homeland Security, the
Administration and Congress should work together to build a
better grant system.
a national capabilities assessment involving all federal, state,
and local partners to establish a baseline for the level of
national preparedness and
funds strictly, based on risk and the TCL.
For its part,
its time and attention on ensuring that the DHS builds a national
system and allocates funds solely on risk and the TCL.
Eliminate the formulaic minimum grants to states, which
would enable applicants to demonstrate their need based on
objective requirements so that even smaller states with existing
capability needs receive funding; and
Eliminate specific functional grants, such as assistance for
firefighters, ports, and interoperable communications, all of
which should be pooled together and focused on the highest
It is past time
to build a national disaster preparedness and response system
grounded on the Target Capabilities List and to allocate funds
based strictly on whether or not the funding requests would build
the right capabilities in the right places at the right level. This
would minimize or eliminate underinvestment in some areas and
overinvestment in others.
makes fiscal sense. More important, spending federal dollars in a
sensible way will save lives.
James Jay Carafano,
Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Kathryn and Shelby
Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Senior
Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The
Heritage Foundation. Matt A. Mayer is President and CEO of Provisum
Strategies LLC and Adjunct Professor at Ohio State University.
He has served as Counselor to the Deputy Secretary of the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security and head of the DHS Office of
Grants and Training.
 U.S. Department
of Homeland Security, Interim National Preparedness
Goal-Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8: National
Preparedness, March 31, 2005, at (April
 U.S. Department
of Homeland Security, Interim National Preparedness
 U.S. Government
Accountability Office, Homeland Security: DHS' Efforts to
Enhance First Responders' All-Hazards Capabilities Continue to
Evolve, GAO-05-652, July 2005, pp. 16-17, at (April 5,
Chertoff, remarks at press conference on the fiscal year 2007
homeland security grant program,U.S. Department of Homeland
Security, January 2007, at (April
Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, The 9/11
Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on
Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (New York: W.W. Norton
and Company, 2004), at (April 5,
 U.S. Government
Accountability Office, Homeland Security: Management of First
Responder Grant Programs and Efforts to Improve Accountability
Continue to Evolve, GAO-05-530T, April 2005, p. 14, at (April 5,