Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 3, 2011

2012 Homeland Security Appropriations

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Philip J. Palin on June 3, 2011

On June 1 the 2012 Homeland Security Appropriations bill was submitted for action in the House of Representatives. The legislation provides $40.6 billion in non-emergency funding for the various programs and agencies within DHS. This is a decrease of $1.1 billion – or 2.6% – below last year’s level and $3 billion – or 7% – below the President’s request.

The entire bill is available from the Appropriations Committee’s website.  Several amendments were being considered by the whole House on Wednesday and Thursday. The outcome of those votes are summarized here.

In commenting on the bill, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) commented, ““We’ve significantly reduced or eliminated ineffective and wasteful programs, while requiring reforms in underperforming programs through heightened oversight, to get the most out of each and every tax dollar. This includes long-overdue reform of the State and Local Grant program under the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has been plagued by inefficiency. These grants often remain in federal coffers for years – right now, there is a backlog of more than $13 billion in unspent funds. As such, this bill reduces funding for this program by $2.1 billion, changing the structure and requiring increased measurement and reporting.”

Here’s related language from the Appropriations Committee report on the homeland security appropriations bill:

The Committee recommends long-overdue reform of FEMA’s administration of its State and Local Programs. For far too long, FEMA has failed to measure the return on investment for the billions of dollars awarded through its first responder grant programs. Furthermore, billions of dollars appropriated in prior years for first responder grants remain unspent due to a variety of reasons, some of which are entirely inexcusable. The Committee believes the Nation’s fiscal crisis and the importance of preparedness and the work of State, local, and tribal first responders to the homeland security mission necessitate bold reform. Therefore, the Committee recommends the following: (1) a substantial reduction in annual appropriations for FEMA’s State and Local Programs; (2) a reorganization of FEMA’s State and Local Programs with funding administered at the discretion of the Secretary and prioritized to the greatest needs and highest risks; (3) a mandate for the FEMA Administrator to submit a plan to drawdown all unexpended balances by the end of fiscal year 2012 from funds appropriated prior to fiscal year 2008 under the heading ‘‘State and Local Programs’’; and (4) a withholding of fifty percent of the funding for the Office of the Secretary and Executive Management until the submission of the National Preparedness Goal and National Preparedness System, consistent with the directions within the recently signed Presidential Policy Directive-8. The latter requirement is designed to compel the Department to begin taking steps to measure the effectiveness and future requirements of these programs.

In addition to the rationale noted above, the cuts to Homeland Security appropriations should be seen as part of the ongoing process of negotiating a deficit reduction plan.  Actual appropriations will reflect Senate input, the outcome of a broader agreement — if any — on the deficit, and horse trading in the eventual House-Senate conference.

Following is specific report language on the proposed reduction in State and Local Programs:

The Committee recommends $1,000,000,000 for State and Local Programs, $2,844,663,000 below the amount requested and $1,229,500,000 below the amount provided in fiscal year 2011. These reductions are due to the persistent lack of quantifiable metrics that measure the additional capability that our Nation has gained for the billions that have been invested and the inability of programs to expend their funds in a timely manner. These concerns, combined with the inadequacy of the Department’s request for a number of other programs, such as ignoring $4,900,000,000 in known disaster costs and $650,000,000 in offsets from aviation security and customs fee revenue that has not yet been authorized, force the Committee to make tough decision on all programs.

Due to a historical pattern of poor execution and management, the Committee is recommending significant reform to the DHS grants process. For years, the Committee has asked question after question of the Department regarding grants and the returns the taxpayers are getting for the funds invested. Today, these questions remain largely unanswered. Therefore, the Committee is making three significant recommendations on first responder grants.

First, the Committee recommends reorganizing the grant program to allow funds to be directed towards the highest need. In the wake of recent terrorist activity, this reorganization will allow the Secretary the discretion to apply limited funds to the programs that have the highest need based on the threat and risk. To address urban areas with the highest threat, the Committee has included language specifically limiting Urban Area Security Initiative funds to the top 10 highest risk urban areas.

Second, the Committee has addressed the massive amounts of unexpended balances in programs. Based on the latest estimates, the Department currently has almost $13,000,000,000 in previously appropriated funds that remain unspent dating back to fiscal year 2005. This level of unexpended balances is unacceptable. To encourage a sense of urgency, the Committee includes a proviso directing the Administrator of the FEMA to submit within 60 days of the date enactment of this Act, a plan to expend all unexpended balances by the end of fiscal year 2012 from funds appropriated prior to fiscal year 2008 under the heading ‘‘State and Local Programs’’.

Third, the Committee has included language directing the submission of the National Preparedness Goal and National Preparedness System consistent with the directions within the recently signed Presidential Policy Directive—8. Funds have been fenced within the funding provided for the Office of the Secretary until information on these programs are provided to the Committee

Unexpended balances are an unequivocal measure of ambiguous meaning.  This is especially the case with federal funds for state and local programs.

There are situations where funds remain because federal officials have not been proactive in working with state and local officials. There are other situations where state and local officials have been slow, even reluctant to integrate federal priorities with existing priorities.  Delayed expenditure is especially an issue where federal programs — appropriately and helpfully — are encouraging state and local innovation.  In some cases funds remain unexpended because of substantive disagreements between levels of government on appropriate purpose and strategy.

Sometimes delayed expenditure is the result of stupidity.  Other times it is the outcome of prudence. The $13 billion includes plenty of each.

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11 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 3, 2011 @ 3:31 am

Well Phil an interesting post! Not sure what this sentence means!
“Unexpended balances are an unequivocal measure of ambiguous meaning. This is especially the case with federal funds for state and local programs.”

That aside I think we can safely conclude that the peak of DHS appropriations has now been reached historically and never again either in present or adjusted dollars will DHS have as much funding as in the last few years.

Perhaps wrong but as years pass I believe the poor choices and strategies adopted by the first three DHS Secretaries will now haunt the Department until it is abolished sometime late in this decade.

One example is the $100B spent since March 1, 2003 on poorly designed, poorly implemented and poorly operated IT systems. Well choices have consequences and the large scale adoption by DHS of a DOD culture of large contractors and large systems spoke to a death knell for brains, imagination, and government owned and operated competence. Too bad IMO because CIVIL SECURITY issues loom large this Century for the world’s oldest and richest democracy (Republic)!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 3, 2011 @ 5:09 am

Bill, the sentence you highlight is oracular… unnecessarily so, I apologize. To be straight up: In several places the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill pushes for various sorts of explicit measures, spending what is unspent is just one. There is also a great deal of attention to measuring preparedness, mapping capabilities, and so on. In each case there is clearly an expectation that a credible process be put in place to track “return on investment.”

Who can argue? Surely we want and need to know the outcomes of what we are spending… and $40 billion per year is a great deal, about the annual cost of the ten year war in Afghanistan.

Certainly I agree that $13 billion in unspent appropriations is worth careful attention. Certainly I am interested in measuring preparedness. I am personally promoting a particular program to map capabilities. I also know that we tend to pay attention to what we regularly measure… weight, gas mileage, or whatever.

I also know there are issues and outcomes that certain kinds of measurement will obscure rather than illuminate. This is especially the case when the desired outcome is innovative. It is very difficult to measure exploratory and creative outcomes. The measurement approach — and investment strategy — used for a start-up is very different than what is appropriate for a mature industry.

In my opinion we have too often asked the Department of Homeland Security to take on innovative goals but then try to apply processes and measurements that are more appropriate for the Internal Revenue Service, which — speaking of being oracular — I encourage attention to The Pale King an IRS-centric posthumous novel by David Foster Wallace. As Wallace describes better than I will ever do, our expectations too often create organizational and personal schizophrenia.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 3, 2011 @ 11:10 am

Interesting as to organizational roles and actors. Note the number of direct reports to Secretary DHS and Administrator FEMA for example! This is not a flat organization re Mary Parker Follette, e.g.!

Comment by Mark Chubb

June 3, 2011 @ 12:22 pm

If the information I have is correct (I haven’t had the chance yet to check), the House last night approved a measure lifting the limit on the number of cities eligible for UASI funding, restored $320m in funding for SAFER and FIRE Act grants and extended eligibility for waivers to SAFER ACT hiring requirements through the end of 2012. This action seems to be at odds with previous Senate action on the DHS budget, and will probably set the table for reconciliation in conference. It’s probably worth noting that the amendments authorizing these changes were sponsored or co-sponsored by Republicans.

Comment by Steve Davis

June 3, 2011 @ 3:11 pm

Regarding this prose: “Unexpended balances are an unequivocal measure of ambiguous meaning. This is especially the case with federal funds for state and local programs.”

I think this and the related comments missed the mark in terms of what is really happening. The federal-state-regional-local process of granting, sub-granting and then sharing the funds, along with the procurement process and finally the grant reimbursement process, are all the main factors in how long it takes to draw down grants.

In my personal experience, it takes years to get and spend the money and years more to get it reimbursed. Meanwhile it sits on the books. This does not mean that the money is not being spent, it means that the reimbursements have not been booked yet. Looking at those balances is like looking in the rear view mirror of a time machine. It is not a good yardstick for the real situation. These funds are providing real and measurable capability enhancements.

The problem IMHO is that no one is doing a good job of telling the story.

Steve Davis

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 3, 2011 @ 4:24 pm

Steve, thanks. I agree the procurement-reimbursement process is a problem… and in some jurisdictions I will agree this is the main problem. But in many jurisdictions I perceive this issue can also be a symptom of other issues, especially disagreement or, at least, lack of mutual agreement on priorities. When local-state-regional-federal priorities are aligned I have seen the procurement-reimbursement problem suddenly disappear. In any case, I don’t expect the additional focus on performance measures to speed spending.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 3, 2011 @ 7:18 pm

GO has announced an intensive effort beginning June 17th to document all DHS programs, functions, and missions that were assigned after 9/11/01 by September 10th as to level of completion. Should make for an interesting report card.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 3, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

GO is typo and should be GAO in above comment!

Comment by Christopher Tingus

June 4, 2011 @ 2:26 am

A ten year war? How dare we engage in such foolishness. Like America understands the stonewalls erected between neighbor and understands the culture abd duffering perspectives…We cannot even tolerate ne another here, just look at the shameful ways of US Congressional ineptness which unfortunately will inevitably place us in the throes of another depression — soup lines?

As to DHS…many very dedicated folks, yet far to many political appointees only for the ride!

Unfortunately gents, every fiat note in every agency is now quite important as to how it is spent and it is time for far more transparency so that We can make comment…oh, that’s right, while we profess “freedom” the Rights ands quality of Life for fellow American is eroding ins such a way that we are being enslaved into poverty – we are bankrupted nearly 15 trillion, yes, trilli0n federal notes and never mind Greece and portygal, Italy and so many others, our destiny marked by the corruptness and injustice towards fellow mankind so when we are talking abut the DHS budget, let’s scrutinize the policy decisions and the policymakers if necessary.

I just spoke with a fellow out in Tulsa, OK sleeping n a bench tonight trying to conduct business as he has lost everything pretty much including family and it is only his Christian faith in this Judeo-Christian nation which keeps his spirits higher than one wuld expect – this gent representing a growing number oof Americans duped by the King and his men! Shame on you — Shame on us who have entrusted such hodlums too hoodwink our red, white and blue pride in manufacturing and governing with a broad reach globally now so narrow in perspective and desperately failing in every way —

Cristopher Tingus
chris.tingus@gmail.com

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 5, 2011 @ 2:20 pm

Always remember that the Homeland Security Committees in House and Senate have yet to complete work on a comprehensive authorization bill for DHS since March 1, 2003 when DHS established.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 6, 2011 @ 11:14 am

Looks like Tara O’Toole’s shop may suffer 20% funding reduction in 2012 and some grant programs eliminated.

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