• United States



Dollars for DHS

Sep 01, 20043 mins

The Department of Homeland Security’s anticipated 2005 budget of more than $30 billion, which passed the House of Representatives in June and is on the Senate docket for this month, includes some big-ticket expenditures on infrastructure and on technology research. There’s $2.5 billion for biodefense measures, $3 billion for airline passenger and baggage screening, and more than $800 million for border patrol technologies. More than $4 billion also has been set aside to fund local first responders across the country. But it wouldn’t be appropriations time if no one felt left out, and some city officials claim that they still do not have the money they need now to beef up their local police and fire departments. They say that funds just aren’t trickling down from DHS coffers.

“As I have said before and continue to say, homeland security money went to the states by Federal Express but is moving to the cities by Pony Express,” said James Garner of Hempstead, N.Y., then president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, in a statement. DHS agrees that there are problems. In June, members of the DHS Task Force on State and Local Homeland Security Funding reported on why the current system was not efficiently distributing funds awarded during the past two years. The task force concluded that overwhelmed and understaffed state and local government officials are wrestling with complex grant systems. The report also cited communication gaps, equipment backlogs, vendor delays and a lack of national standards guiding distribution.

There has been some progress, however slow. According to a recent report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, as of September 2003, 90 percent of the 231 cities that were surveyed had not yet received any funding through the state-block grant program, which is designed to assist first responders. By June 2004, 52 percent still had received no fundinga dramatic improvement, though that’s little consolation for the have-nots. Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) reported to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, of which he is the chairman, that DHS has streamlined the process and “continues to work with state and local governments to identify choke points so that money can get where it is needed.”

James Jay Carafano, a senior research fellow of defense and homeland security for The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, counsels patience, saying that giving states and cities enormous budgets with little guidance would just put tremendous pressure on existing staff. “We need to set up a framework to give these grants efficiently, create standards and more performance-based systems,” Carafano says. “I’d rather see restraint than rush to failure.”