Cities adjust to new DHS funding method
In the next two months, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is expected to announce $746 million in Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grants for 2007 that will be distributed among 45 urban areas. A year ago, many city officials were fuming when they found out that, under DHS’s risk-based criteria for the program, they were not eligible to apply for the federal funds, and several received much less money than they had in 2005. However, many now say DHS has listened to their concerns and has made some changes resulting in a more equitable, easier process.
“I think they’re doing the best they can to come up with a formula to distribute funds that is fair to all jurisdictions,” says Darrell Darnell, interim director for the District of Columbia Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. “At the same time, they have the responsibility to look at the consequences of something happening in certain areas, and I think it’s very difficult to come up with a formula that everyone will think meets their needs.”
Six urban areas designated by DHS as top-tier cities — Chicago, Houston, the Los Angeles/Long Beach area, the National Capitol region in Washington, the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area, and the San Francisco Bay area — will share 55 percent of this year’s funds, or $410 million. Another 39 urban areas — tier-two cities — will share the remaining $336 million.
In 2006, DHS officials said their decisions to restrict cities’ eligibility for UASI grants were based on a newly created, risk-based formula designed to determine which urban areas could apply each year for the federal funds. Also, local officials were required to submit investment justifications describing how funds would be used.
After much opposition from local, state and federal officials, however, the department has made some changes. “They have allowed the preparedness officers assigned to the states to work with us when preparing our submissions, [which was not allowed last year],” says Jim O’Brien, director of the Clark County, Nev., Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. “[The officers make sure local officials] are focused on national security goals.” O’Brien also says DHS officials educated local governments on which sections of the investment justifications were most important in their decision making.
Darnell says the change was helpful. “That has made the application process a little easier,” he says. But Darnell says the formula DHS uses to determine risk and how much money cities will receive “is always evolving,” adding that he will see what happens when the department announces the grants to determine whether he would suggest any other changes.
District of Columbia officials were highly disappointed in 2006 to learn they had received less UASI funding than the year before. Also receiving less UASI funding in 2006, Louisville, Ky., had only enough that year to finish ongoing projects. Louisville officials also were told the city would not be eligible for future UASI funds. The determination of criteria for UASI funding is erratic, says Chad Carlton, spokesman for Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson. “Every year, Congress has changed the criteria for qualification,” he says.
Officials in Omaha, Neb., were very disappointed in DHS’ decisions in 2006 and 2007. “We were not [funded by UASI in 2007 or] even reinstated as a tier-two city,” Mayor Mike Fahey says. Omaha leaders remain unclear about how the federal government is determining eligibility. “Obviously they have some sort of risk-based formula, but we don’t know exactly what it is,” he says. “Now we will make sure we have all of our information updated so when [we] go through the cycle again, we can make sure we’re doing all we can to ensure funding. We believe we need to be funded.”
Meredith Preston is the Washington correspondent for American City & County.