Funding Homeland Security Grants – The House, the Senate, and the Administration Take Different Approaches

This is the first in a series of five articles about the way in which the House, Senate and Administration propose to deal with federal budget items that are important to cities and towns.

As if sequestration and the various continuing resolutions weren't confusing enough, we now have to deal with the fiscal year 2014 budget proposals developed separately by the House, Senate and Administration. Based on their various budget documents we now know that federal anti-terrorism funds will be appropriated and allocated in very different ways if the House, Senate and Administration have their ways.

The Senate appears prepared to retain the current grant structure with separate funding for the State Homeland Security Program (SHSP), the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), and Operation Stonegarden (OPSG). The House may be willing to consolidate dozens of homeland security programs into one, based upon language in its budget resolution that points to the presence of numerous duplicative and overlapping programs. And the Administration has called on Congress to consolidate SHSP, UASI and OPSG into a single block grant named the National Preparedness Grant Program (NPGP).

Overall post-sequestration funding for fiscal year 2013 for SHSP, UASI and OPSG will be about $800 million. About $270 will go to the SHSP program for state based emergency preparedness work; about $450 million has been appropriated to the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) program; and about $45 million has been appropriated for the Stonegarden Program.

The UASI grants are of particular importance to cities and towns. According to DHS, these funds are designed to "address the unique planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercise needs of high-threat, high-density urban areas, and assists them in building an enhanced and sustainable capacity to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism."  The Stonegarden Program helps border state communities better coordinate their local anti-terror activities.

If the Senate prevails, we can expect the current funding structure to remain in place, though the actual funding levels for each of the programs remains unclear and will not be known until the Homeland Security Appropriations Committee decides what the funding levels should be.

If the House prevails, we can expect that many homeland security programs will be rolled into a single block grant that could result in a substantial reduction in funding.

If the Administration prevails we can expect funding to remain relatively level in fiscal year 2014, but what were once three separate programs will be merged into the NPGP.

While the possible changes coming from the House remain vague -- the House Budget Resolution does make note of what it calls the numerous duplicative Homeland Security programs but offers no specific solution - the Administration has been very clear as to what it wants to do and achieve. According the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the NPGP "would eliminate the redundancies and requirements placed on both the Federal Government and the grantees resulting from the current system of multiple individual, and often disconnected, grant programs."

DHS also claims that this grant program would not impact local funding since 80 percent of the appropriated funds would have to be passed through to localities. In support of the proposed changes, DHS has launched a major campaign in support of this new funding mechanism. It has been reaching out to members of Congress as well as state and local elected officials urging them to support the new mechanism. It is too early to know whether Congress is amenable to the Administration's approach.

Despite this, NLC will continue to oppose this proposal, in part, because block grants of the sort proposed often result in reduced funding, and, in part, because the current grant program structure is working well by funneling funds to local areas to develop and implement local and regional responses to terrorism and other potential catastrophes.