June 17, 2009 By Elaine Rundle
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday the agency has improved its grant process, in remarks about the department's nearly $1.8 billion in preparedness grants for fiscal 2009.
"These grants provide direct support for regional preparedness, urban security and medical response efforts in communities across the country," Napolitano said. "The new grants management initiative launched this year will generate better value for every grant dollar while strengthening our nation's ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from all disasters."
Napolitano named three areas in which the grant process has changed:
o Fiscal 2009 target allocations were based on stakeholder feedback.
o The DHS dedicated money to projects that have sustainability beyond a single grant program or cycle. "We've made sure our partners know how funds can be used and should be used in sustained ways over time," Napolitano said.
o The process has been streamlined to be more efficient for applicants.
DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa commented by e-mail: "As far as sustainability, training is a large component of grant allocations, ensuring that grantees support equipment and programs with the training to keep their staff current and proficient."
Jeremy Heidt, public information officer of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, said the state was happy to see that part of the grant process has been reversed. "Previously you would have to apply for the grants not knowing how much money there was to be allocated," he said. "So it's very hard to come up with a realistic plan to use that money. We had counties that were just throwing out numbers and saying, 'Well, if you give me a zillion dollars I can do this.'"
Heidt said with the fiscal 2009 grants the state was told how much money to plan on receiving and that the amount could increase or decrease by 10 percent. "That's enabled the counties to then take that number and apply for that grant money with a lot more specificity in their plans for what they're wanting to do with that money," he said.
He said another improvement was that the grant announcements were made in July instead of October or later.
Kudwa said the DHS worked with the states to streamline the process beginning Nov. 5, 2008, when the formal guidance for the grants was posted.