Funding worries fusion center officials

The federal government wants state and local intelligence fusion centers to play an integral role in federal information sharing efforts and terrorism prevention. However, questions remain about funding the centers.

The Bush administration has pledged to help the centers achieve and maintain baseline capabilities through the Homeland Security Department’s State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP) and Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant funding. However, some lawmakers are concerned about restrictions DHS placed on how those grants can be used by state and local authorities. It's also unclear how long that funding will last. The centers are designed to improve the way information is shared between state, local and federal law enforcement agencies.

Capt. Charles Rapp, the director of the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center, said that once fusion centers receive the Justice Department’s final guidance on the baseline capabilities they are expected to meet next month, attention will turn to funding.

“Some of the baseline capabilities represent a challenge for many of the centers including my own, which has not met all of the baseline capabilities needed,” he said at a hearing held by a subcommittee of Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee April 17. “Once a metric has been developed, then the value of each center can be assessed; however, without a consistent funding stream some centers may never attain core capabilities,”  Rapp said.

Maryland’s center relies on SHSGP and UASI grant funding. DHS has come under criticism from lawmakers who say that restrictions that the department included in its 2008 grant guidance conflict with a 2007 law. They say the law allows states to use up to 50 percent of the funds for personnel purposes.

“Some of the centers are very concerned about their ability to sustain operations long-term,” Eileen Larence, director of homeland security and justice Issues at the Government Accountability Office, said at the hearing. “Some are very dependent on federal grants…"

Larence said that the federal government needs to answer the policy question of whether its role will be more of a “weed and seed” program in which it provides initial funding to get the centers started or if the government plans to help maintain the centers as it builds a network of fusion centers across the country.

Jack Tomarchio, DHS’ deputy undersecretary for intelligence and analysis, said that although fusion centers are at different levels of development, their problems are pretty consistent and include training and sustainability.

He said several representatives from different fusion centers he had spoken with “felt that they were living on borrowed time.”

Vance Hitch, the Justice Department’s chief information officer, said at the session that without a “funding horizon” fusion centers cannot really plan.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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