July 27, 2012 | Issue Brief on Homeland Security
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) just announced the final allocations for the 2012 homeland security grants. Since 9/11, Congress has allocated over $40 billion in funds to states and localities. The majority of this funding came from DHS, but funding also came from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and other federal departments and agencies.
What has all of this funding bought taxpayers nearly eleven years later? Even taking DHS’s view, not as much as it should have bought. Given the growing federal fiscal crisis, Congress needs to dramatically change where those grants go.
The Status Quo
According to the DHS National Preparedness Report published in March, states and localities have a long way to go before America is “prepared” for a catastrophic event. Keep in mind that the DHS assessment is largely based on self-assessments completed by states and localities with little to no audit verification. With that limitation in mind, the following is the relative preparedness of states and localities across the 31 core capabilities:
Acknowledging that the core capabilities are not weighted equally in importance, the average preparedness percentage across core capabilities is just 62 percent. If it took $40 billion over 11 years to hit that mark, that means it will take another $15 billion to become fully prepared.
If Congress appropriates $1.3 billion per year, it will take another 11.5 years to finally be prepared. Can America really wait until 2024 to be prepared for a catastrophic event?
Time and Funding Not Available
For too many years, DHS and other federal departments and agencies have disbursed funds to states and localities under more than 20 different grant programs. From siloed infrastructure programs (such as the Transit Security Grant Program) to those targeting charity organizations, virtually every constituency managed to get a program tailored to its wants. Even worse, those entrenched interests successfully fought off attempts to consolidate programs in a more rational way.
In 2012, DHS allocated $1.3 billion under 11 different programs:
HHS, DOJ, and other federal departments and agencies have additional state and local grant programs as well.
Similarly, the methods of allocating funds ranged from nonsensical population-based allocations to complex algorithms using risk-related elements. These allocation variations resulted in funding being sent to places with little to no terrorist risk and then being placed on autopilot, thereby allowing locations to receive funds no matter what their risk or level of preparedness. Meanwhile, America’s high-risk jurisdictions received less funding than they should have.
For example, under the 2012 allocations, the lowest Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) allocation of $1.25 million went to both Indianapolis and San Antonio; Denver received $2.5 million; Las Vegas got $1.8 million; Charlotte pulled in $1.5 million; and Portland earned $2.2 million. Yet Wyoming, which has fewer people than all of those cities, received $2.8 million. In fact, over one-third of the 31 high-risk UASI cities received less funding than Wyoming did.
Thankfully, the Obama Administration eliminated over half of the eligible cities from UASI this year, thereby maximizing the funding to America’s riskiest 31 cities.
Focus Finite Funds
Congress and DHS should do better with the finite funds it allocates to secure America. Here are concrete ways to do that:
Twelve Years Is Too Long
After $40 billion and 11 years, it is time for Congress to narrow the focus of finite federal funds for homeland security grants. By now, most low-risk states, cities, fire departments, infrastructure entities, and other groups have received more than enough federal funds to meet whatever minimal terrorism threat they may face.
Matt A. Mayer is a Visiting Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, president of Provisum Strategies, and author of Homeland Security and Federalism: Protecting America from Outside the Beltway and Taxpayers Don’t Stand a Chance: Why Battleground Ohio Loses No Matter Who Wins (and What to Do About It).