HSNW conversation with David MuhlhausenMany DHS grants ineffective, lack proper oversight

Published 21 September 2011

David Muhlhausen, a research fellow in empirical policy analysis at the Heritage Foundation, recently spoke with Homeland Security NewsWire’s executive editor Eugene K. Chow; in their interview, Muhlhausen discusses the efficacy of DHS’p Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grant program, the need for objective evaluation of UASI as well as other DHS grants, and various DHS grants that need to be carefully examined for potential cost savings

David Muhlhausen of the Heritage Foundation // Source: voafanti.com

Homeland Security NewsWire: You recently called into question a report by the National Urban Area Initiative Association that detailed the effectiveness of DHS’s Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant program. Given your thoughts on the report, in your opinion has UASI been an effective use of federal funds?

David Muhlhausen: Currently, there appears to be a virtual absence of independent, objective evidence indicating the effectiveness of UASI. The absence of evidence does not mean that the program is effective or ineffective. We simply do not have valid information on the program’s effectiveness.

HSNW: In your comments on the National Urban Area Initiative Association, you spend a lot of time discussing metrics and measuring the efficacy of grant programs. Has DHS done a sufficient job overseeing its grant programs and ensuring that federal money has been spent effectively at the local level?

DM: For UASI, DHS has certainly not done a sufficient job of monitoring the performance of the grants. A 2009 Government Accountability Office report concluded that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the administrator of UASI, “does not have measures to assess how UASI regions’ collaborative efforts have built preparedness capabilities”—the primary goal of the program.

HSNW: With lawmakers struggling to find ways to cut government expenditures, is UASI a wise place to look considering that its goal is to bolster local counter-terrorism and disaster response capabilities?

DM: Simply spending more on UASI does not necessarily mean that counter-terrorism and disaster response capabilities will be bolstered. Increased spending does not equal increased effectiveness. Urban areas eligible for UASI has exploded over the years. While constituent politics has increased demand for more spending on UASI, the nation cannot afford to spend scarce homeland security funds on unnecessary capabilities. The drastic increase in eligible areas diluted the funding that was available to areas that are truly high risk for terrorist attacks. Not all jurisdictions suffer an equal threat of terrorism. Funding allocation should reflect this fact. Thus, DHS’s plan to reduce eligible areas from sixty-three to thirty-one seems to be appropriate.

HSNW: The latest DHS budget proposes cuts to the counter-terrorism and disaster responses grant programs at the local level, which has resulted in sharp criticism from local and state governments who say these funds are critical, especially in light of steep budget cuts. Did DHS make the right decision in refocusing its local grants on high-risk urban areas and cutting funds to others?

DM: Unfortunately, constituent politics has had too great of an influence on UASI. While federal spending on homeland security has drastically increased since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, state spending on homeland security as a share of total state spending has remained almost flat. Thus, federal grants appear to be supplanting state spending on homeland security. State and local officials have come to expect the federal government to finance operations that are clearly the responsibility of state and local governments. With out of control spending threatening our nation’s fiscal solvency, the federal government can no longer afford to subsidize the routine responsibilities of state and local government.

HSNW: Aside from UASI, what grant programs or areas should DHS officials be examining more closely for potential cost savings?

DM: Officials at DHS should realize that the Assistance for Firefighter Grant (AFG) Program, Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) grants, and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) programs are ineffective. The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis (CDA) collected data from 1999 to 2006 on 10,033 fire departments and using regression analysis estimated the impact of fire grants on fire casualties. Of these fire departments, 58.4 percent received fire grant awards while 41.6 percent did not. The CDA evaluation found that AFG, FP&S, and SAFER grants had no impact on the occurrence of firefighter deaths, firefighter injuries, civilian deaths, or civilian injuries. Without receiving fire grants, comparison fire departments were just as successful at preventing fire casualties as grant-funded fire departments. Further, these grants encourage local fire departments to become increasingly dependent on federal funding for providing basic fire services, such as subsidizing the salaries of firefighters. Thus, these grants do not supplement or add to the capabilities of local fire departments to perform homeland security tasks. Congress should eliminate funding for these grants.