How To Improve Homeland Security: Fund Equipment Maintenance Through the Homeland Security Grant Program
Homeland security encompasses more than national level policy, doctrine and talk. It also includes the impact national decisions have on frontline homeland security professionals. Today’s post is from one of those professionals. Sara Diaz is the Emerging Technologies Manager for Special Operations with the San Diego California Fire-Rescue Department. She suggests what can be done to sustain some of the preparedness gains of the past few years.
What one sentence best describes your idea about how to improve homeland security?
Allow a maximum of 5% of Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) awards to be used to purchase maintenance contracts for equipment obtained in previous HSGP funding cycles.
Describe your idea in more depth.
Every year state, tribal, and local agencies prepare HSGP investment justifications outlining projects, training, personnel, and equipment to be used to reduce risk in their jurisdictions and increase target capabilities. The goal of HSGP is to enable agencies outside the federal government to prevent, prepare, respond, and recover from incidents, both natural and man-made. Each year more and more equipment is purchased to address these requirements. With the current state of budgets, some agencies cannot sustain the cost of maintaining all of this equipment after initial warranties and maintenance contracts end.
As equipment is used in training, exercises, and actual incidents, it suffers wear and tear. If equipment is not well maintained, the reliability and overall usable life of the equipment decreases significantly. It is not a cost effective use of funds to let equipment deteriorate prematurely; doing so perpetuates a perception that items purchased through grants are “disposable.” The purpose of HSGP purchases is to improve capabilities. Proper maintenance is vital to ensuring equipment will function as expected when needed.
Under current grant guidelines, the grantee is responsible for maintaining equipment past the performance period of the grant. However, if grant recipients were able to use up to 5% percent of their grant awards to maintain equipment previously purchased through HSGP, local agencies would have an option to ensure equipment is in good working order if local funds were not available for sustainment. The decision would be up to the individual agency to determine if they had equipment that would benefit from an extended maintenance contract, in lieu of purchasing additional or replacement equipment. For agencies facing budget shortfalls, this option would be very attractive as they struggle to find ways to cut costs while continuing to provide additional services related to homeland security.
What problem or issue does your idea address?
Some would say that grant recipients are lucky to receive funds to assist in adopting homeland security strategies within their jurisdictions. Incidents are a local responsibility, and the federal government’s role is to support and augment resources when local governments are depleted. However, from the local perspective, equipment purchased through the grant programs is often specialized. As stated in program guidelines, it cannot be used to supplant existing operations. The result is equipment often sits in cabinets, used only during exercises, training, and the occasional incident. The reality is, when faced with budget shortfalls, agencies must decide where to cut costs. Deferring maintenance of equipment seldom used is one viable option for local agencies, one that is often selected over cutting core services. However, from the federal perspective, deferring maintenance is wasteful and leads to less prepared communities.
If the idea were to become reality, who would benefit the most, and how?
HSGP recipients would benefit from having well maintained equipment necessary to prepare, prevent, respond and recover from incidents. Adopting this idea would extend the usable life and overall reliability of the equipment. The federal government would benefit by maximizing its investment, confident that grant recipients will be able to execute target capabilities the grant programs were meant to support.
What are the initial steps needed to get the idea off the ground?
Program guidelines would need to be updated for the fiscal year 2010 HSGP to outline what equipment is eligible (any equipment on register as purchased through an HSGP award) and the allocation guidelines. Grant recipients would be encouraged to conduct a business case analysis to determine if there is an advantage to using grant awards for equipment maintenance versus other allowable expenditures.
Describe the optimal outcome should your idea be selected and successfully implemented. How would you measure that outcome?
The expected outcome is equipment purchased through grant funds to prepare, prevent, respond, and recover from attacks against our homeland and natural disasters is well maintained and functions as expected when used during exercises, training, and actual incidents. Local agencies hesitant to apply for federal grant funds because they know they cannot afford to sustain new capabilities would be able to participate, resulting in more jurisdictions with increased capabilities, and a better prepared nation.