DHS grant money not yet spent, but will be
In July, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced $1.7 billion in 2007 Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) awards, and, in June, the House approved a $36.4 billion DHS spending bill for fiscal year 2008. However, some members of Congress are calling for HSGP funding to be slowed in light of reports that nearly one-third of post-9/11 HSGP grants awarded to states have gone unspent. Grant recipients, on the other hand, say the reports are inaccurate because they do not take into account that some of the unspent money is still slated to be used for specific projects.
The grants are allocated to state, local, and tribal governments to fund planning, organization, training and equipment purchases to prepare for terrorist attacks. However, Jim Pettit, spokesman for Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, senior Republican on the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, says unspent balances have consistently been around $5 million each year. Pettit says some officials question whether HSGP recipients are using the grants to supplement their regular operating budgets.
Paul Cox, press secretary for subcommittee Chairman Rep. David Price, D-N.C., disputes the idea that HSGP money is being improperly spent. “That argument only holds water if you honestly believe that our state and local first responders are fully equipped [to meet emergencies,]” he says. Cox says states make long-term investments in anti-terrorism initiatives and the federal government needs to have realistic expectations about how fast the money is spent.
The HSGP grants are not designed to be spent all at once, says Jason Post, spokesman for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Post says a large amount of the two- and three-year grants goes unspent in the first year because that is when a project is in the planning phase. Once equipment is purchased and training costs ensue, the grants are drawn down. “While we haven’t spent all the money earmarked for [New York], the money is 100 percent committed,” Post says.
Grant spending also can be slowed by the need to involve numerous local agencies in homeland security programs, says Jim O’Brien, manager of the Clark County, Nev., Office of Emergency Management, the urban area that includes Las Vegas. In many cases, multiple agencies involved in the program must sign formal agreements. For example, O’Brien says Nevada is setting up two “fusion” terrorism intelligence hubs that will be 500 miles apart. Projects of that magnitude also have many sources of funding, and forming agreements on the spending of those funds may slow things down.
Mike Chamness, chairman of the Illinois Terrorism Task Force, says the federal government should bear part of the blame for delays in grant spending. Although fiscal year 2007 began in October 2006, the government was almost a year late in announcing the awards. “I find it a little of the pot calling the kettle black,” he says. Chamness says Illinois has spent about 82 percent of the grant money it received, and the unspent portion is for grant periods that are still open.
Individual jurisdictions also have their own way of approving funds that may delay spending, says Darrell Darnell, director of the District of Columbia Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. “Any [project] over $1 million must be approved by [the Washington] City Council,” says Darnell of his jurisdiction. Also, the federal government requires that grant recipients contact at least three vendors for bids on equipment. “Those things take time,” Darnell says.
Annie Gentile is a Vernon, Conn.-based freelance writer.