Group recommends DHS grant exemption

Task Force on State and Local Homeland Security Funding report

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A task force recommends circumventing the practice of reimbursing localities for homeland security expenses and creating a common system for administering grants.

Officials from the Task Force on State and Local Homeland Security Funding today delivered to Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge a report on why local government officials haven't seen the DHS money they expected. The document includes 15 recommendations for getting past those problems.

They "were driven to find a consensus around both workable and reasonable solutions to several of the problems associated with the distribution and use of dollars," Ridge said. "They could have glossed over it and sought the least common denominator, or they could have sought just compromise."

At the end of its three-month investigation, the task force blamed hang-ups in the funding on years of grants management, procurement laws and practices, and other policies designed to ensure that government money is spent appropriately.

"The standard grant process and purchasing procedures that exist in our country, at all levels of government, don't work terribly well if your objective is speed," said Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, chairman of the task force under the Homeland Security Advisory Council.

The group's top recommendation is to exempt fiscal 2005 grants from the federal Cash Management Improvement Act of 1990 in a trial run at allowing local agencies to receive the money up to 120 days before they have to spend it. That would help cities whose charters forbid them from signing contracts unless the money is actually in their account.

"We have the ultimate Catch-22: We can't buy it until we have the money in our account, but we won't give you the money until you've bought it," Romney said.

Communities also should follow the other recommendations, said Donald Plusquellic, mayor of Akron, Ohio and vice chairman of the task force. That includes having legislatures and public officials exercise emergency procurement authority while working out permanent solutions for homeland security buys, and getting officials from multiple jurisdictions to use each others' contracts.

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