BudgetDHS formula grants to states drop dramatically

Published 17 April 2013

DHS money allocation o money to states for first response and disaster recovery has dropped significantly. DHS formula grant program was at an all-time high of $2 billion in 2003, but last year the program had only $294 million. As a result of the sequester, another 5 percent will be cut from the program.

In the last few years the money DHS has allocated to states  to purchase equipment and develop  first response and disaster recovery plans has dropped off significantly.

The Herald.net reports that federal grant spending on state and local homeland security is currently at an all-time low. The DHS  formula grant program was at an all-time high of $2 billion in 2003, but last year the program had only $294 million, and as a result of the sequester, another 5 percent will be cut from the program.

In Massachusetts, funding from the program has dropped 76 percent in the last five years, and the state received just $4 million dollars last year, according to the Federal Funds Information for States.

Ben Bawden, a government affairs consultant representing the National Fusion Center Association and the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies, said that in addition to funding being down significantly, domestic attention to responding to bomb threats has also fallen off.

Bawden told Herald.net that bombings are typically seen as an overseas concern for which local and state law enforcement agencies do not have the proper training to respond.

“It’s been a fatalistic view by state and local law enforcement agencies. We just don’t have a good way to increase the level of awareness or ability to detect and mitigate bomb threats and they (law enforcement officers) are all saying, ‘It’s just a matter of time before someone explodes a bus, a car or a trash can.’” Bawden said.

One reason for the cuts is the perception  that there have been many instances of the money being wasted. According to a report assessing the use of federal grants on homeland security, several  cities and  states have wasted federal grant money.

Michigan used grant money from the program to purchase thirteen snow-cone machines. Officials in Illinois wasted $45 million on a video surveillance system which failed. In Columbus, Ohio, officials spent $98,000 to purchase an “underwater robot” which officials said would be used to assists in underwater rescues, although the state is landlocked.

Another factor for the drop in funding is the fact  that the money was granted on a per capita basis. This meant that  smaller states facing little or no terror threats often received more money, on a per capita basis, from DHS than New York or California. Of the top five cities receiving DHS grant funding, only  Washington, D.C.  could be considered a prime  terrorism target. New York City was ranked 10th in DHS formula grants.

Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) says the program and others like it lack clear intent.

“We cannot secure liberty and guarantee security simply by spending more and more money in the name of security,” Coburn wrote in a Senate oversight committee report in December. “Every dollar misspent in the name of security weakens our already precarious economic condition, indebts us to foreign nations, and shackles the future of our children and grandchildren.”

Despite the cuts at the federal level, Bawden believes that in the days following the Boston Marathon bombing, things could change.

“We are going to see state and local law enforcement, lawmakers and governors saying that they want to take steps to minimize this; that need the resources to train people to respond, and minimize this from happening again,” Bawden told Herald.net.