Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 23, 2006

GAO probes DHS grants to non-profits

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Infrastructure Protection — by Christian Beckner on May 23, 2006

The GAO issued a report today on the program at DHS to earmark $25 million/year of grant funds to non-profit organizations for their physical security, a total that was funded in FY 2005 and FY 2006. In FY 2005, DHS had delegated these funding decisions to cities, which apparently displeased the appropriators, because they inserted language in FY 2006 that said that these grant decisions should be “determined by the Secretary to be at high-risk of international terrorist attack” and “shall not be delegated to any Federal, State, or local government official.” This displeasure also presumably led members of Congress to request the report.

The chart on page 5 of the report is interesting; it lists how much each city received from this $25 million, and how many proposal requests they received and ultimately funded. There’s a clear disparity among cities in the way that they allocated these funds, which is probably one reason why the report was requested. For example, Washington, DC approved 37 out of 38 proposals, whereas New York City only approved 113 out of 203. Unless DC discouraged potential losers from submitting proposals, it’s clear that the two cities are working off of different baseline risk assessments.

The most illuminating comments in the report are these on page 25, from state and urban area officials:

– Relative to other critical infrastructure within urban areas, nonprofit organizations were a comparatively low priority for funding;
– Some nonprofits had inquired about future funding. One official indicated that nonprofits had not expressed a need for target hardening prior to this grant program;
– In some cases, the $100,000 limit on target hardening subgrants per organization was insufficient to make improvements that could mitigate a terrorist attack; and
– Target hardening funds are allowable under other grant programs and a specific allocation for nonprofits limited states’ flexibility in addressing security issues of other types of organizations.

The comments lead me to the conclusion that this $25 million earmark is a waste of money. If the non-profits are seen as a low threat, didn’t need the money before the program started, and can’t use it effectively, then giving it to him is wasteful, however noble the purpose of the earmark might be. These funds would be better used if they were put back into the general Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) pot. Many non-profit organizations might very well be vulnerable to terrorist attacks, but these needs should be weighed alongside those of other vulnerabilities in a community, consistent with a fair and vigorous risk assessment.

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