House votes to kill restrictions on DHS grants

The House has passed a measure that would eliminate some restrictions on how state and local authorities can use grants from the Homeland Security Department to support their intelligence fusion centers.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers have expressed concern that the current restrictions could force the centers to scale back their operations -- or end them.

The Personnel Reimbursement for Intelligence Cooperation and Enhancement of Homeland Security Act, passed by the House unanimously July 29 by a voice vote, would amend some restrictions on federal financial assistance provided to state and local governments for information-sharing activities, such as the fusion centers.

The legislation would allow state and local authorities to use up to 50 percent of grant money awarded for any fiscal year to pay for personnel and operational costs, including overtime costs. It would also allow authorities to pay for analysts at the centers regardless of whether they are new hires or have been working at the centers without any time limitations.

Fusion center officials have raised questions about how the federal government was planning to assist state and local governments in sustaining the centers, particularly regarding grant funding for intelligence analysts.

In its fiscal 2008 guidelines for the Homeland Security Grant Program, DHS said only 15 percent of State Homeland Security Grant Program money and 25 percent of Urban Area Security Initiative funding could be used to pay for intelligence analysts at the centers.

DHS also limited that proportion of grant money that states and local governments can spend on planning, exercise, training and equipment activities. In addition, the guidance also states that the grants could only be used to sustain intelligence analysts for up to two years and to pay new analysts.

Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), the bill’s sponsor, said his measure  would clarify DHS' responsibility to fund the centers' operations.

No companion legislation is pending in the Senate. The House bill received the support of from the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the National Governors Association and the National Sheriffs’ Association, according to Reichert's office.

The Congressional Budget Office has said implementing the measure would have no significant costs in the next five years.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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