DHS doles out $2.2 billion in grants

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The Homeland Security Department has awarded more than $2.2 billion in grants through three programs for first responders, law enforcement agencies and citizens with counterterrorism efforts.

The department also announced that states, for the first time, would be able to apply online for grants using a one-stop-shop application for the three programs: State Homeland Security Program, the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program (LETPP) and the Citizen Corps Programs.

In addition, the department is launching an interagency grants and training Web site to provide information on homeland security and public safety grant opportunities offered by federal agencies.

States are required to distribute 80 percent of their awarded funds to localities.

Largest DHS grantsStateAmount
California$176.5 million
Texas$115.8 million
New York$103.9 million
Florida$92.7 million
Ohio$68.6 million

The State Homeland Security Program will distributed almost $1.7 billion to first responders in states, communities and U.S. territories through the Office for Domestic Preparedness. It's designed to pay for planning, training, exercises and equipment for first responders, such as police, fire and emergency medical and management workers.

About $500 million given through LETPP is meant to help law enforcement agencies enhance their information-sharing capabilities for detecting, deterring, disrupting and preventing potential terrorist attacks with a specific focus on stopping incidents with weapons of mass destruction. Funds can also be used to reduce vulnerabilities of high-value targets, enhance interoperable communications and help in management and administration. It also pays for overtime costs related to homeland security.

The Citizen Corps program's $35 million will support state and local communities' efforts to create and sustain Citizen Corps Councils. Funds will be used to develop and implement community preparedness and family safety plans in homeland security. The money is meant for public education about crime prevention, mitigation, all hazards emergency preparedness, bioterrorism and other health-related issues, and training and volunteer opportunities to support first responders, disaster relief groups, and community safety efforts.

Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas) welcomed such funding but said the formula used to distribute money needs to be changed.

"The [DHS] Secretary [Tom Ridge's] announcement today shows that the government needs to stop using arbitrary formulas that distribute dollars without rhyme or reason," he said in a prepared statement. "Thirty-eight dollars per capita spending in Wyoming and only $5 per capita in Texas and California do not reflect the threats and vulnerabilities facing those states."

Reforming the federal grant system has been a goal for many lawmakers and state and local representatives who have said the system is fragmented, tedious and slow. Those critics say grant officials should place more emphasis on vulnerability assessments and national standards.

In testimony to a Senate subcommittee in September, Paul Posner, General Accounting Office's managing director of federal budget issues and intergovernmental relations, said the bottom line question is, what impact will the grant system have in protecting the nation against terrorism.

"At this time, it is difficult to know, since we do not have clearly defined national standards or criteria defining existing or desired levels of preparedness across the country," he said. "There is a fundamental need to rethink the structure and design of assistance programs, to streamline and simplify programs, improve targeting, and enhance accountability for results."

Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, has introduced a bill that is supposed to address such needs.

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