DHS IG: More work needed to improve port security program

DHS Inspector General report: “Follow Up Review of the Port Security Grant Program”

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The Homeland Security Department has improved the administration and effectiveness of its port security grant program, but funding across projects is still inconsistent, according to a new report from the department’s inspector general.

In a January 2005 report, the IG made 12 recommendations to improve the port security program, which has awarded more than $700 million in five rounds of grants to U.S. ports to strengthen the security of facilities and operations. The recommendations pertained to the administration of the fifth round of grants and the program overall through revised eligibility criteria, a risk-based funding formula and other measures.

However, in the follow-up report released this week, the IG listed five additional measures need to be taken to shore up areas of weakness.

For one, the department needs to establish a minimum threshold for projects to receive funding. None currently exists.

“The revised selection and evaluation process ranks all of the projects but does not include a minimum score threshold to differentiate unworthy projects from worthy ones,” the report states.

“What the actual scores imply about the merits of projects, especially the funded projects, is discounted,” the report continues. “We identified 20 projects that reviewers determined did not meet national security priorities but were funded nonetheless."

The program also skipped over higher-ranked projects to pay for projects that it could fully fund, the report stated, and a handful of awarded projects reflected incomplete scores or data.

Additionally, the report recommends that:

  • The department should modify the Grants Management System to require national review panel (NRP) members -- representatives from various agencies who evaluate and validate projects -- to enter a reason for adjusting scores for ports under consideration for funding. In the last round of grants, NRP’s comments regarding the decision to award certain projects were not fully documented.

  • People who conduct field reviews need to be more consistent when they score projects.

  • The department needs to automate NRP and field review scoring processes to improve the accuracy of data.

  • The department must require private-sector applicants to demonstrate how federal funds would improve their own security investments.
  • The report suggests the department should try to measure the effect of the security program as it continues to evolve.

    “Because DHS has awarded over $700 million in five rounds of grants, it has raised the overall bar of preparedness, but it is not clear that DHS knows how much actual risk reduction has been achieved,” the report states. “Data contained in area maritime security plans, facility security plans and portwide vulnerability assessments may serve as valuable measuring sticks in this evaluation.”

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