By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 6, 2008
The Department of Homeland Security announced plans yesterday to dole out $3 billion in counterterrorism grants next year to state and local agencies with far-fewer strings attached than in past years, in a concession to sharply tightening budgets at all levels of government.
The total amount mandated by Congress to go to the 50 states and the District, as well as funds for ports, transit systems, emergency managers, tribes, nonprofit groups and others, remains close to last year's levels. But, unlike in past years, DHS acted months earlier in revealing specific amounts that will go to the states and the 62 designated high-risk cities.
The DHS move marks a response to criticism from a Democratic Congress and increasingly restive state and local leaders. They have complained that the Bush administration's domestic security officials have focused on terrorism at the expense of other law enforcement priorities, such as fighting drugs, gangs and violent crime.
That tension is expected to intensify as the nation's financial crisis deepens. The incoming Democratic administration will face hard funding choices as it tries to improve ties with state and local partners who must choose between keeping police officers on the beat; maintaining costly equipment, systems and supplies intended to respond to a terrorist attack; and other needs.
"The economic crisis is placing a great strain on local resources, forcing officials to decide between, say, a school-lunch program and cops on the street," said David Heyman, homeland security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "This sounds like the department being very responsive to years of deep-seated complaints from local authorities about the enormous federal funding bureaucracy."
An aide on the House Homeland Security Committee, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of panel rules, said bluntly, "There is no more room for folks from state and local government to complain. They got pretty much what they wanted."
Among other changes, DHS loosened rules to allow recipients to spend up to 50 percent of homeland security grants for personnel expenses, up from 25 percent; ease a 25 percent local-match requirement for rail, transit and port security aid; lift a three-year limit on funding for intelligence analysts in law enforcement "fusion" centers, which police chiefs nationwide have requested.
The department also agreed to spread aid for immigration law enforcement to states with international water as well as land borders, and to let grants be used to store -- not just purchase -- emergency supplies such as prepackaged food, water and medicines.
The money designated for Virginia and the national capital region will remain roughly the same, said Robert P. Crouch Jr., homeland security adviser to Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D).
The District, Maryland and Virginia stand to receive about $200 million under the six biggest DHS grant programs, including $38 million for Metro transit security, $61 million in urban security grants and $48 million in state homeland security grants.