Securing homeland security funds: efforts are underway to make it easier for states and local governments to access homeland security funds.

Author:Ramsdell, Molly
 
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Follow the yellow brick road! Follow the yellow brick road!

If only it were that easy.

How do communities track down their portion of the $2.5 billion in federal funding for homeland security available in FY 2005? While the path has not been well-marked, by no means straight and with no magic "ruby slippers," efforts are underway to repave the road, put up some road signs and clear up some misconceptions about this grant making process.

Amid growing concern a year ago that federal homeland security money was sitting in the U.S. Treasury and not reaching local governments in a timely fashion, then-Secretary Tom Ridge established the Task Force on State and Local Homeland Security Funding. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Mayor Donald Pusquellic of Akron, Ohio, chaired the group of state and local elected and appointed officials and tribal leaders.

They examined the distribution of federal funds for the State Homeland Security Grant Program (for planning, training, equipment and exercises) and the Urban Areas Security Initiative (for high risk urban areas) and developed specific recommendations to expedite the process.

"Everyone put aside their differences, rolled up their sleeves and really worked together to try and fix the problem without pointing fingers at any level of government," says New York Senator Michael Balboni, a member of the task force.

The task force discovered there was:

* A general misunderstanding about how the grant programs work.

* A conflict between homeland security needs and federal, state and municipal purchasing requirements.

* A need for standards.

HOW THE GRANT PROGRAM WORKS

States and cities do not get a blank check from the U.S. Treasury for homeland security. "A lot of people thought that just because the federal law requires states to 'obligate' the funds within 60 days of receiving the grant award that it meant cash would be on the streets," Balboni explains. "The process is much more complicated than that." There are plans and applications to be developed, reviewed and approved. This could take up to six months after Congress appropriates the funds. Then the procurement process begins. Couple that with inevitable delays when vendors are unable to deliver specialized equipment quickly, and months, if not years, can be added to the timeline.

At what point does money actually hit the street? Homeland security funds are provided to state and municipal governments on a reimbursement basis. State and local...

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