Congress passes measure to kill restrictions on DHS grants

Congress has passed legislation that would force the Homeland Security Department to lift some restrictions on how state and local authorities can use DHS grants to fund state and local intelligence fusion centers.

The measure would ensure states and local authorities can use up to 50 percent of grant money awarded under two grant programs to pay for personnel costs for terrorism prevention activities such as the fusion centers that share terrorism-related information from federal, local and state sources. The measure would also allow authorities to use those grant funds to pay for intelligence analysts at the centers regardless of whether they are new hires or veteran employees.

DHS had interpreted language in a 2007 law that set the 50 percent limit to mean it could set more restrictive limitations on how state and local authorities used grant money to fund fusion center operations.

DHS said only 15 percent of State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP) money and 25 percent of Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) funding could be used to pay for intelligence analysts at the centers. DHS also said state and local authorities could use funds to hire new analysts, not to pay existing ones. DHS limited the time the grants could be used to pay the analysts to three years.

The legislation would prohibit such restrictions.

The Bush administration has pledged to help the centers achieve and maintain baseline capabilities through the SHSGP and UASI grant funding. However, during the past year lawmakers and fusion center officials have said uncertainties about fusion centers’ funding were a major challenge facing the government’s efforts to establish an integrated network of fusion centers.

DHS’ fiscal 2009 budget, was signed into law by the president Sept. 30, provides a total of $950 million worth of funding under the SHSGP and $837.5 million will be available through the UASI.

The legislation first passed the House in July; the Senate passed the measure Sept. 27.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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