Proposed change in security grant program could have far-reaching impact

Monday, August 29, 2011

YARMOUTH, Maine–Not only does the House of Representative's proposed FY2012 appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security include more than just $1 billion in funding cuts for security grant programs, it also changes the way those grants are allocated. Both are cause for concern for security directors, according to experts who spoke to Security Director News for this story.

In the past, each security grant program received a certain pot of money. For example, in fiscal year 2011 the Port Security Grant Program received $235 million, while the Transit Security Grant Program received $200 million. In the House's current bill, which it passed in June, those separate allocations have been scrapped in favor of a lump sum of $1 billion that will be distributed competitively among all 12 grant programs, Don Erickson, director of government relations for the Security Industry Association, told Security Director News. "So under this scenario of the House bill, port security theoretically—I don’t think this would happen—could end up with $5 million, transit could get $50 million, and UASI [Urban Areas Security Initiative] could get the rest," he said.

The proposed change in how those grants are allocated to ports, transit authorities and urban areas are just as concerning as the cuts, Erickson said. "That's a nuance of the appropriation bill that's important to point out," he said. "Knowing early in the fiscal year how much money will be allocated to a particular program is certainly in the interest of security directors, in my opinion."

Changing the funding model will reduce the amount of collaboration and information sharing that has occurred between disparate organizations, James Allen, transportation planning manager for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, told SDN. If the new approach is adopted "I think we’ll go to pre-2003 where there were silos and we don't talk to each other because it's competitive," he said.

Susan Monteverde, vice president of government relations at the American Association of Port Authorities, also voiced her concern for what a new funding model could mean to ports. "There's been some rumbling in DHS, as well, that they'll just focus on the largest ports, which we're also very opposed to," she told SDN. "We don’t want to have a soft under belly of ports where terrorists would go to unprotected ports, so we are very concerned about that: both the budget cuts and the narrowing scope of the program."

Given the budget climate, the proposed cuts are not a surprise, Monteverde said. Another reason the House reduced funding is a perception in Washington that the money is not being used because of the amount left on the table from past allocations. To combat that perception, Monteverde said security directors need to be more diligent in sending in reimbursements. “They have a grant, they need to start sending in reimbursement forms in a more timely manner because it's hurting the program. By waiting until end of project and then asking for reimbursement it's misunderstood on the Hill. People think that people aren’t spending the money, and that’s not true.”

The Senate has yet to pass its DHS appropriations bill, after which a committee of members of both houses will get together to hash out a combined bill. As for restoring the funding cuts in committee, Erickson isn't optimistic. There's a chance some cuts will be reversed by the Senate, but there's only so much they can do, he said. "I don’t think in this budget climate you’re going to see the cuts from the House restored 100 percent across board."