Lieberman signals contentious time for DHS

If the first spat is an indication, the Homeland Security Department will have its hands full with a Senate now controlled by Democrats.

A statement issued Jan. 5 by the DHS about plans for its fiscal 2007 Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGC) of roughly $1.7 billion, which helps fund counterterrorism efforts by state and local governments, drew a sharp response the same day from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the new chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The guidelines DHS issued for the grants “are ill-advised, at best,” Lieberman said, and called the department’s decision to change its existing practices in how it distributes the grant money “inexplicable.”

In announcing the 2007 guidelines and application kits for the five grant programs that make up HSGC, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said the process has been redesigned to be more user-friendly.

“There will be increased interaction with all applicants before we award the grants to ensure effective investment,” Chertoff said. “The funds will be distributed to reduce risk across the United States, not just in a handful of places.”

The process will also ensure that communities facing the highest risk will receive the majority of the funds, he said.

DHS said the methodology applied to the grants takes into account several factors, including intelligence assessments, population size and density, economic impacts, and the proximity of the authority receiving the grant to nationally critical infrastructure such as international borders.

The five programs that comprise the HSGP encourage a regional approach to strengthening homeland security, DHS said, adding that grant funding priorities include reducing risks from improvised explosive devices and radiological, chemical and biological weapons.

More than 100 experts in law enforcement, emergency management and homeland security from federal, state and urban areas will form peer review panels to assess this year’s grant applications. After the review process is complete, DHS said, it expects to announce grant allocations by this summer.

However, Lieberman said the change to DHS’ current practice of taking into account each state’s population density when assessing risk leaves densely populated areas, such as his home state, “dangerously vulnerable” to terrorist attacks.

DHS will also use a different method to calculate the minimum amount all states are guaranteed under the HSGC, Lieberman said, and that will potentially lead to significant decreases in funding for many states.

The changes “show little promise for improving the distribution of these critical homeland security grants and bring further confusion to the process for states and localities applying for these funds,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman said his committee would make a focused effort to pass a permanent funding formula for the HSGC to prevent the funding guidelines from being arbitrarily rewritten each year.

“A fair and consistent funding formula is long overdue, and I will make this a priority in the new Congress,” he said.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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