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Diane M. Grassi

Examining The State Homeland Security Grant Program & The Urban Area Security Initiative
By Diane M. Grassi
Mar 28, 2006 - 7:58:00 AM

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Since 2003, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has provided funding for states and urban areas across the country, under its Homeland Security Grant Program, in an effort to improve emergency preparedness, at the local level, in the event of a terrorist attack. Such funding has been available through two types of programs known as the State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP) and the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI). Both types of funds have consisted of myriad formulas and application requirements which have caused disputes between members of the United States Congress as well as between state governors regarding the amount of allocations doled out, both in the past and presently.

In 2006, when it was thought that the program could not get any more confusing and unfair to certain states and urban areas, the DHS has topped itself yet again. Many lawmakers have been left dumbfounded, since they have so little information and criteria available in the decisions that the DHS has made for Fiscal Year 2006, which began October 1, 2005. In addition, the decisions for FY 2006 will have a direct impact on any forthcoming funding beyond FY 2007, for those urban areas which have been deleted from the eligible list for 2006.

If the aforementioned has left you confused, you are not alone. It is important to note that the two distinctly separate funding programs, although Homeland Security Grant Programs, are more apt now to become supplements to each other, as the amount of funding has been cut for not only 2006 distributions but projected to be further reduced in 2007 as well. The UASI grants for 2006 allot $765 million to 35 urban or metropolitan areas, comprised of various counties, cities and towns in their immediate vicinities. In 2005 there included 50 urban areas and thus the initial outcries this year.

The 2006 eligible urban areas list has left off some major urban regions which were included in 2005 and since the program’s inception in 2003, leaving lawmakers and law enforcement with lots of questions. Among the big question marks are San Diego, CA, Las Vegas, NV and Phoenix, AZ, prompting federal, state and local officials to demand answers from the DHS.

The Homeland Security Appropriations Act, originated in 2002, established the SHSGP, which in the past allocated one-half of its funds to be equally divided between all 50 U.S. states including U.S. territories and possessions, with the remaining funds distributed to states based upon population. The system in place in 2006, however, guarantees a minimum amount to each state, but requires each to apply and qualify the need for additional risk-driven funding. Thus, it is incumbent upon each state to essentially prove its case to the DHS for additional allocations. For FY 2006, each state is guaranteed a baseline minimum distribution of $7.13 million in the SHSGP, reserved to concentrate on law enforcement training and preparedness. And since UASI grants are now pared down from 50 to 35, state grants loom even more important, as each year since 2004 the amount of funding for both programs has de-escalated.

In its effort to temper the criticism of pork-barrel rewards for certain states and urban areas least expected to be hit by a terrorist attack, the DHS has reframed its criteria in order for states and urban areas to either qualify for additional funding or in the case of the UASI, for any funding at all. With respect to San Diego, for example, which was eliminated from eligibility for 2006 UASI grants, when questions were asked by state and local lawmakers and officials, it became clear that the formula will not be disclosed because it is classified information, according the Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff. In its zeal to remove all doubt that it is not being unfair in its analysis and that politics has not played a part in its decisions, the DHS states that the formula used for risk assessment was derived scientifically by computer calibrations and algorithms, yet so confusing that the DHS cannot even begin to explain them.

It is primarily the confusing new rules, which remain unexplained by the DHS, which has upset officials from both federal and state levels of government all over the country, with quite vocal protests coming from California and Nevada. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Senator Diane Feinstein of California along with Governor Kenny Guinn and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada have all been outspoken on the issue and have demanded more answers.

San Diego’s federal contingent of representatives, which includes Congressman Duncan Hunter, Congressman Darrell Issa, Congresswoman Susan Davis and Congressman Bob Filner, met in February with Homeland Security officials. But frustration was clearly expressed by Representative Filner. Most objectionable was the perceived disregard by the DHS that the county of 3 million residents, sits on an international border, is an international port, houses the largest marine base in the U.S. along with being a major naval base. As well as being a choice tourist destination, it would seem that these factors would be qualifiers for UASI funding for San Diego.

Filner recalls, “San Diego’s military bases and ships could be sitting ducks for a terrorist and aren’t factored into Chertoff’s “disciplined” analysis. I asked whether anyone has the [same] concentration of nuclear things that are a perfect target for terrorists,” he said. “Does any other city have three nuclear carriers in their harbor, a dozen or more nuclear submarines and a nuclear power plant? They said, “We don’t have those figures, but all of those military assets are “invisible to us,” in the DHS’ risk calculations,” according to Filner.

Rep. Susan Davis’ account was similar to Filner’s. “The DHS have certain principles they use when evaluating communities, such as transportation systems and populations, but that they haven’t really figured in [defense] facilities. What was so darned frustrating was that we expected them to come in with a rationale, but they basically said the [defense] facilities don’t quite factor into their assessment. It did seem very strange to us,” Davis said.

California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, believes that military installations are not necessarily immune from terrorist attack. And the Mayor of San Diego, Jerry Sanders, points out the vulnerability of the U.S.- Mexican border, especially with recent discovery of sophisticated underground tunnels, in which drugs, contraband and potential terrorists can be funneled into the U.S.

Nevada officials were allowed access to a classified meeting with Secretary Chertoff on March 9, 2006, including Congressman Jim Gibbons, Congressman Jon Porter, along with two top police administrators one of whom was the Las Vegas Metro Police Homeland Security Deputy Chief, Mike McClary. “When their calculations were done, there were areas where there was no data available,” according to McClary. “It’s a mystery how 10’s of millions of hotel guests were left out of the equation,” he said. According to Frank Siracusa, Nevada Emergency Management Director, “Different officials at Homeland Security often give contradictory recommendations or simply refuse to answer the questions.”

On any given weekend throughout the year, there are upwards of 300,000 hotel occupants on the Las Vegas Strip, many of whom are part of the more than 44 million tourists that arrived at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport in 2005, and growing each year. Why such data was not part of the equation in the assessment for Las Vegas could not be explained by the DHS, but it did offer to provide Las Vegas with another review. Whether or not the security of Hoover Dam was also overlooked in the DHS analysis remains a mystery as well. Las Vegas officials were not given a time frame in which they would get any future official communication from the DHS.

The UASI program is now focused primarily on enhancing the capabilities of local government to prevent, protect against, respond to and recover from any number of catastrophic events. But planning for law enforcement training programs and equipment purchases for localities such as San Diego and Las Vegas will now have to rely solely on “Sustainment” risk funds or “Tier 2” eligible funding, versus “High risk” or “Tier 1” funding.

This means that localities may receive the balance of funding only for those projects which remain incomplete from 2005. Should the DHS find that its oversight of not including tourists in its eligibility analysis of Las Vegas was not an error, thus finding it only eligible for Tier 2 funding in 2006, Las Vegas will have to reapply from scratch in 2007. And if any urban area has two consecutive years of either denied funding or Tier 2 funding, it then remains permanently ineligible for any future UASI funding. Meanwhile, urban areas newly added to the eligible list for UASI funding in 2006 include Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale, FL and Columbus, OH.

And finally, given all of their formulas and 37 capabilities requirements of “investment justification” in order for states and urban areas to be considered for funding from the DHS, it has yet to come up with such a measure of accountability, once funding has been dispersed, in order to realize the effectiveness of its funding. For without follow-up analysis, the DHS, the Congress, and state and local governments and law enforcement will have no clear indicators as to whether their law enforcement programs and preparedness purchases has been money well spent through the funding programs.

And without transparency between the federal and state levels of government, requiring necessary input from local government, the DHS will remain hamstrung in its own red tape, thus weakening the original intent of its grant programs. In order to expedite emergency response preparedness to those areas most likely at risk in the event of catastrophe, without such commitment to accountability the DHS spending programs will serve to create a false sense of security, and ultimately put the U.S. at far greater risk.


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