New bill calls for quarterly reports from DHS grant recipients

From Government Security News:

A bill that would require recipients of homeland security grants to file quarterly reports to Congress on precisely how they spent those funds has been filed by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and co-sponsored by five other congressmen.

The measure, H.R. 625, was introduced on Jan. 21 and referred to the House Homeland Security Committee. It is intended to provide greater transparency on how DHS grant monies are actually expended.

I’ll update this post when the status changes.

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FEMA’s relationship to DHS drawing attention and debate

One of the most important decisions President-elect Obama will face when his administration takes over DHS is whether to leave FEMA as a part of DHS, or remove it from DHS and make it a cabinet-level agency, as it was before DHS was formed.  Members of Congress, stakeholders, and prominent organizations are taking sides on the issue, but it’s not clear yet what stance the Obama administration will take.

[UPDATE 05/15: CQ Politics reports that on Wednesday 5/13, Secretary Napolitano stated that the Obama administration supports keeping FEMA within DHS; but one day later, Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN) said that he will continue his push to remove FEMA from DHS, despite opposition from the administration.  Give some credit to the dedicated folks at FEMA who’ve had to endure the uncertainty of this long-running debate, because apparently it’s not over yet.]

House: Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee wrote to President-elect Obama on Dec. 17 to demand the removal of FEMA from DHS, declaring that its placement in the larger agency impedes its ability to serve as a “quick response” agency.  In response, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) Rep. wrote to Obama Dec. 19 strongly disagreeing with Oberstar, saying that FEMA should remain in DHS, but that Obama should appoint someone to lead FEMA who has a strong relationship with Obama.

Senate: Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security Disaster Recovery Subcommittee, has stated that she doesn’t recommend removing FEMA from DHS at this point, but she’s open to the concept and wouldn’t resist it if the new administration made the decision to make the change.  Landrieu told Homeland Security Secretary-designate Janet Napolitano that “there were still some senators that felt strongly about it staying where it is, some that were kind of open to change and others that would really recommend that it be made independent”, and that “it should be open to discussion.”

Update 01/15/09: Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), the chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), the ranking Republican member, urged Janet Napolitano at her confirmation hearing not to remove FEMA from DHS.

Bush Administration: The Bush administration made the decision to include FEMA in DHS, and still supports that decision.  Michael Chertoff has publicly stated that he opposes removing FEMA from DHS, and has cautioned his successor from making any major changes to DHS.

Obama Administration: The Obama administration has not taken a public stance on either side of the issue.  Senator Landrieu said Napolitano is “testing the waters” with Congress to find out how members of Congress feel about the issue.  Landrieu emphasized that Napolitano didn’t say removing FEMA from DHS is something the Obama team is considering.

Update 01/15/09: At Janet Napolitano’s confirmation hearing, she didn’t take a stance on either side of the issue, instead promising to actively look into the issue.  But her other testimony about FEMA indicated strong support both for FEMA and for increasing FEMA’s cooperation with the rest of DHS, regardless of where FEMA ends up.

Update 02/25/09: The DHS Inspector General weighed in with a report titled “FEMA: In or Out?“, in which the ID recommends keeping FEMA in DHS.

Other Organizations and Stakeholders: A month ago the International Association of Emergency Managers officially endorsed removing FEMA from DHS (Representatives Oberstar and Thompson publicly disagreed on the issue at that time as well).  In addition, the Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative think tank, weighed in on December 4 with a memo supporting Thompson’s position to leave FEMA as part of DHS.  A number of other organizations and stakeholders have cautioned more generally against any major reorganizations at DHS, even though they may not have addressed FEMA specifically.

Update 01/08/2009: 3 fire service organizations – the IAFC (International Association of Fire Chiefs),  IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters), and Congressional Fire Services Instituteweigh in against removing FEMA from DHS.

  • The IAFF is affiliated with the AFL-CIO (labor is expected to have some influence in the strongly Democratic Congress), and according to the IAFF web site, “The IAFF is one of the most active lobbying organizations in Washington; its Political Action Committee, FIREPAC, is among the top one percent of the more than 4,000 federal PACs in the country.”
  • So expect these 3 organizations to carry some weight, and for Congress to resist if the Obama administration pushes to separate FEMA from DHS.

Potential Conflicts: In Oberstar’s letter to Obama he declared that his committee has jurisdiction over FEMA and that making FEMA independent would have strong support in Congress.  However, the overlapping nature of Congressional oversight of DHS makes it likely that other Congressional Committees, including the House Committee on Homeland Security that Thompson chairs, will lay some claim to FEMA oversight as well.

Expectations (My Take): Expect continued public discussion and debate, but expect Obama to take some time before making a decision.  And regardless of what his final decision is, don’t expect a change to FEMA any time soon.  Obama tends to be a consensus builder, and feelings are strong enough on this issue that even if Obama decides to remove FEMA from DHS, he’ll probably go slow, taking time to build a broader base of support for the change before implementing it.

UPDATE 12/24/08: It’s important to note that one of the reasons there is resistance to making FEMA independent of DHS again is that some important entanglements between FEMA and DHS have already been established in terms of politics, funding, and already enacted legislation (which was written to apply to DHS as a whole).  It could get pretty messy to separate them at this point.  For example, allocation of funds for the DHS Homeland Security Grants Program (HSGP) is performed by the FEMA Grants Directorate, and moving that function to DHS could cause confusion and funding changes all the way down to the state and local level.  So if FEMA is ultimately pulled out of DHS, expect some ripples and unintended consequences in unexpected areas.

Update 02/25/09: At this point, I’d say the momentum is clearly on the side of keeping FEMA in DHS, and I’m going to stop updating this post.  If this changes and the momentum seems to swing the other way, I’ll publish a new post.

DHS opens $3B in FY2009 grants with less restrictions

From the Washington Post:

The Department of Homeland Security announced plans yesterday to dole out $3 billion in counterterrorism grants next year to state and local agencies with far-fewer strings attached than in past years.

The DHS move marks a response to criticism from a Democratic Congress and increasingly restive state and local leaders. They have complained that the Bush administration’s domestic security officials have focused on terrorism at the expense of other law enforcement priorities, such as fighting drugs, gangs and violent crime.

Among other changes, DHS loosened rules to allow recipients to spend up to 50 percent of homeland security grants for personnel expenses, up from 25 percent; ease a 25 percent local-match requirement for rail, transit and port security aid; lift a three-year limit on funding for intelligence analysts in law enforcement “fusion” centers, which police chiefs nationwide have requested.

The department also agreed to spread aid for immigration law enforcement to states with international water as well as land borders, and to let grants be used to store — not just purchase — emergency supplies such as prepackaged food, water and medicines.

History and tips on the DHS grant award process

From HSToday:

A founder of the key homeland security grant program looks back at his handiwork and provides tips on grants and getting the most out of procurement dollars.

A few excerpts:

This year marks the fifth year of existence of DHS, as well as of the UASI program. To this day, the program undergoes changes and sometimes withering criticism concerning DHS’ application of the risk-based funding formula and funding decisions. As I look back now from the perspective of the private sector, I see that, while many UASI jurisdictions, in partnership with their states, do an excellent job of running their programs, there are always lessons learned and best practices to be conveyed.

The three core issues

To develop and run a productive UASI program, state and local leaders must focus on three main issues: establishing a governance and management structure; developing a homeland security strategy and implementation plan based on risk and need; and creating a process to develop, track and measure specific investments to enhance homeland security based upon that strategy and implementation plan.

Governance and management

We decided upon a system of checks and balances that would require the cities, counties and state agencies to work together in order to actually spend the grant money.

Procurement

A key functional area that often gets overlooked by most UASI jurisdictions and state and local governments is procurement.

For some UASI jurisdictions, the inability to quickly, efficiently and effectively spend grant funds results in serious delays in building the capabilities needed to increase homeland security. Most often, the delays have little to do with federal or state government rules. Rather, they are the result of antiquated local procurement laws and regulations that require time consuming and bureaucratic procedures to be followed that often add little value to the process.

Investment justifications

During my time at DHS, we didn’t require written and specific investment justifications to be submitted prior to awarding UASI funding (or any other funding) to states and urban areas. Beginning in 2005, DHS created this process and made it quasi-competitive, awarding funds based on an urban area’s terrorism risk profile and the quality of its investment justifications as scored by state and local peer review panels.

While I’ve taken issue with some of the specifics of how DHS manages this process, in total, I agree with its overall purpose of requiring significant pre-planning by states and urban areas consistent with their strategies and implementation plans before they get access to federal funds.

The lesson from all this: The investment justification process must be viewed as the culmination of a comprehensive, year-long, homeland security planning and implementation process and not simply as a 90-day event in order to ask for money from the federal government.

Perfecting procurement

Most homeland security operators don’t want to even try to fully understand their procurement process. The rules are often a cumbersome morass built incongruently atop each other, with many rules written because someone did something foolish in the past that must be prohibited in the future. Despite the unpleasantries of procurement, designing an effective procurement strategy is essential to acquiring the products and services needed to protect the homeland.

MN: Border counties eligible for a new source of DHS grants

From The Independent Record (Montana):

Last year, Congress directed DHS to allow northern border counties to apply for funding through Operation Stonegarden. The program was previously only for security on America’s southern border.

All 11 counties on Montana’s northern border will receive a combined $2 million to help pay for fuel, personnel and equipment, plus an additional $6.2 million combined in state homeland security funding.

House lifts DHS restrictions on use of grants for fusion centers

The House last week passed legislation that would force DHS to lift some restrictions on how state and local authorities can use DHS grants to fund state and local intel fusion centers.

The measure would ensure states and local authorities can use up to 50 percent of grant money awarded under two grant programs to pay for personnel costs for terrorism prevention activities such as the fusion centers that share terrorism-related information from federal, local and state sources. The measure would also allow authorities to use those grant funds to pay for intelligence analysts at the centers regardless of whether they are new hires or veteran employees.  The bill overrides limitations DHS placed on use of the funds, based on DHS interpretation of a 2007 law.

Report suggests shifting funding from fighting terrorism to fighting crime

A growing number of experts and officials are calling for a complete re-evaluation of the grant system to help more to reduce crime and less to buy expensive high-tech homeland security equipment that rarely or never gets used.

“The simple truth is that average Americans are much more likely to find themselves victims of crime than of terrorist attack,” the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) says in a new report that calls on the next president to shift money back to crime fighting.