Lawmakers say restrictions threaten centers
Senior lawmakers have urged the Homeland Security Department to ease restrictions on how much DHS grant money state and local authorities can spend on personnel for terrorism prevention activities. The members of Congress said the current restrictions could force state and local fusion centers to scale back or even cease operations.
In its 2008 guidlines for the grants, DHS said only 15 percent of State Homeland Security Grant Program money and 25 percent of Urban Area Security Initiative funding can be used to pay for intelligence analysts. Limitations were also placed on the proportion of grant money that states and local governments can spend on planning, exercise, training and equipment activities.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers said these restrictions run afoul of the sweeping 2007 law to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission they say allow states to use up to 50 percent of the funds for personnel purposes.
in a letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff dated April 11, the lawmakers said the legislation reflected the understanding that terrorism prevention activities are “personnel intensive.”
Lawmakers also have been critical of the administration’s proposed fiscal 2009 budget for DHS, which would reduce funding for those programs to $1.9 billion from the almost $3.2 billion in the 2008 enacted budget. Specifically, the State Homeland Security Grant Program would get about a quarter of what Congress enacted for fiscal 2008, going from $950 million to $200 million, while money available through grants for urban areas deemed to be at high risk for terrorist attacks would go up slightly.
DHS officials have said because they have new programs, the Bush administration is actually asking for $2.2 billion for state and local grants, which they say is in line with what it had asked for in fiscal 2008.
The letter signed by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.), focused on how allocated grants can be spent by states and local governments rather than the amount of money they receive, adding that the limits were “in direct contravention” of the Implementing the legislation.
The lawmakers noted that clarifications that DHS released in March were a positive step to correcting the “flaws” in the original guidance, but they said they do not allow for states to use these funds to pay for existing analyst positions, just for new ones — giving states little help in maintaining existing fusion centers.
Last year’s National Strategy for Information Sharing expressed the need for federal funding to maintain the more than 50 state and local intelligence fusion centers. The administration identified the centers as the primary node for sharing terrorism related information with state and local authorities. Congress has designated DHS as the lead federal agency for fusion centers, which remain state and locally owned and operated.
The letter says that the restrictions “will have an adverse impact on many grant recipients and may even have the effect of forcing some fusion centers to restrict or cease operations.”
Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.