May 31, 2007 By Jayme A. Sokolow
Depending on your perspective, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is either a wastrel or a miser when it comes to grants for state and local governments.
Though critics accused DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff of wasting money to purchase dump trucks and leather jackets, others pointed out that the department has billions of dollars in unspent grant funds.
In recent testimony before the Senate, Chertoff admitted being concerned about the roughly $5 billion backlog of appropriated but unspent homeland security grant funds, which he charmingly characterized as a bookkeeping issue.
Regardless, Chertoff recently announced ambitious plans for requesting $3.2 billion in grants for the coming fiscal year before the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. In addition, the DHS will administer a $1 billion public safety interoperable communications grant program with the Department of Commerce.
Unspent grant monies are a rarity for any government agency, but this is good news for state and local governments. It means that there are plenty of funds available in the department's five grant programs.
Over the years, the DHS's method of allocating grant funds has changed. In the current fiscal year, there are two kinds of grant allocations.
Each state, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico is guaranteed a percentage of total appropriations. The remainder is at the discretion of the department, which has chosen to allocate grant funds "based on risk and the effectiveness of the state's proposed solutions to identify homeland security needs."
The Homeland Security Grant Program is the primary funding mechanism for building and sustaining the nation's preparedness capabilities. Grant funds in five programs support state and local planning, equipment purchases, training and administrative costs.
The Urban Areas Security Initiative provides grants to high-density urban areas to prevent, respond to and recover from terrorist acts. This year, 46 urban areas are eligible for funding. More than $700 million is available.
The State Homeland Security Program provides support to build state and local capabilities. In addition to a minimum allocation, states can receive additional funds based on evaluations of their grant applications. Approximately $500 million are available.
The Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program, as its title implies, helps law enforcement organizations prevent terrorism. More than $350 million in grant funds is available based on the same formula as the State Homeland Security Program.
The Metropolitan Medical Response System Program has about $32 million in grant funds available in equal amounts to 124 urban jurisdictions. Funds can be used to prepare for incidents.
Finally, the Citizen Corps Program brings community and government leaders together to coordinate emergency preparedness activities. This $15 million program has a complicated grant funding distribution that does not involve discretionary monies.
Although these are the department's most current grant descriptions, they do not add up to Chertoff's $3.2 billion figure -- meaning even more grant funds should be available to states and localities in the coming year.
Breaking the Logjam
The DHS admits in its fiscal year 2007 Homeland Security Grant Program Application Kit that "making an application for significant federal funds under programs such as this one can be quite complex and occasionally frustrating." Though sometimes true, the application process is no more complex or frustrating than other similar federal grant programs.
The key to success is preparedness. If state and local governments develop the right processes and procedures now, they will likely be awarded more grant funds later.
The first step involves visiting the DHS Web site, downloading the application kit and carefully studying grant programs and deadlines.
The second step is assessing your readiness to submit a grant application. Does your agency have a one-year strategic plan to identify and pursue grant opportunities? Do you have