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Half full or half empty?

Written by Gary Cooper

In America, units of government at all levels are facing reductions in revenues and budget deficits, resulting in spending cuts, hiring freezes, and in some cases, layoffs. As are all segments of government, the justice and public safety communities are feeling the heat. Where will they find the resources needed to fight and prevent crime and terrorism and respond to manmade and natural disasters? A concern is that there is not enough money for these agencies to serve and protect their communities adequately, let alone respond to and meet federal priorities.

The last several weeks have been filled with questions from justice officials and from senior managers in private sector companies asking about the prospects for continued funding of federal grant programs. This funding can be used by state and local justice and public safety agencies to help procure information, identification and communications technologies. Who knows? Crime and therefore, federal grant programs, are not on the Top 10 list of most federal officials confronted by massive problems with the economy, the environment, energy availability, and the war. But history, short and longer term, is replete with indicators that permit reasonable speculation about the answers to these questions. So, what does the future look like? Is the glass half full or half empty?

The federal government has completed half of the job for FY 2009 (e.g. the short-term future). At the end of September, the Congress passed and the president signed a continuing resolution (CR) that extends the life of the federal government until March 6, 2009. Basically, federal agencies can spend monies until then based on FY 2008 budget levels. However, this does not apply to the ability of federal granting agencies such as the Department of Justice (DOJ) to give grants unless specifically so stated in the CR. In this CR (P.L.110-329), the Congress took the unusual step of including a full year’s appropriation for FY 2009 for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) state and local grant programs. In other words, in spite of all of the disruptions to and misgivings about the economy, DHS now has its grant programs funded for 2009. The DOJ, on the other hand, has to wait until the Congress revisits the CR to determine if it has a grant program for FY 2009.

This article does not examine each of the grant programs that DHS and DOJ administer. It examines the several grant programs that are most likely to be used by state and local justice and public safety agencies to procure information, identification or communications technologies.

Over the past three years, appropriations to those DHS programs has varied somewhat. Fiscal year 2007 received an appropriation of $3.8 billion, while FY 2008 and FY 2009 received $3.5 billion. Of course, the FY 2007 appropriation contained a one-of-a-kind, one-time, $1 billion funding for interoperable communications. If that aberration is removed, then the annual totals reflect some growth and then stability moving from $2.8 billion and remaining for two years at $3.5 billion.

The drivers for the increase have been the State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP), the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), and the Port and Transit Security Grant Programs. A hidden driver has been the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Grant Program (LETPP). Among other things, LETPP monies are used to support fusion center development. A specific appropriation for that program ended in FY 2007, however, Congress now directs DHS to allocate 25% from each of SHSGP and UASI for LETPP purposes. So, while its appropriation has disappeared, the LETPP program purposes remain a priority within DHS, and the program has more than doubled in terms of appropriations, moving from $210M in FY 2007 to $447 billion in FY 2009. Table 1 shows the details of the size of the appropriation for each of the selected DHS programs for the past three fiscal years.

The selected DOJ grant programs pale in comparison to the dollar size of the DHS grant programs (see Table 2 on page 20). In FY 2008, the DOJ programs were about one-sixth the size of the DHS programs. Congress appears ready to improve that ratio in FY 2009 by increasing the DOJ programs and making them about one-fourth the sized of the DHS programs. But, fighting terrorism remains a greater federal priority than fighting crime. Local police officials are calling attention to the disparity in funding and question the wisdom of treating crime fighting as a second cousin to fighting terrorism. The police are not suggesting that antiterrorism efforts aren’t needed, but they are saying that crime continues to take a daily toll on American citizens.

In a recent article in USA Today, Miami’s Chief John Timoney is quoted as saying, “We’re grateful for the Homeland Security money, but violent crime, gang activity, and drug dealing are on the rise, and I’ve had three homicides this week with AK-47s.” In the same vein, U.S. mayors in an Open Letter to the Next President of the United States said, “Since September 11, 2001, the federal investment in local policing has been cut 81%.” Later in the same letter, the mayors noted that nationally, 34 people die daily of homicides involving guns. They continued, “that if Al Qaeda were responsible for 34 deaths a day in the United States, the nation would do whatever was necessary to stop the deaths and would spare no expense in accomplishing that task. The nation would never take a bake sale approach in funding its responses to international conflicts, but it does in funding responses to domestic conflicts in its cities.”

In the short term, what might happen next to DOJ grant funding? The current CR is set to expire on March 6, 2009, but the Congress could address it sooner. Many, if not most observers, however, feel that the Congress will wait until after the next president and the next Congress are in place before taking action. And that brings us back to March 6. Because of all of the federal “red ink,” will the Congress fund the DOJ grant programs? I feel the answer is yes.

As the old saying goes, “all politics is local,” and local governments and the local justice and public safety community across the country are experiencing severe budget problems. The political pressure to increase, much less sustain, DOJ funding from national groups representing local government (e.g. the United States Conference of Mayors, the Conference of State Legislatures, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Criminal Justice Association, etc.) has been growing for some time. That pressure has educated the Congressional appropriators to the criminal justice (as opposed to homeland security) grant needs of local government. That need is deepening with the economic crisis, and so is the resolve of local government to pressure the federal government to live up to its responsibilities as a partner in the national justice system.

Since federal justice and public safety grant programs were created, the country has experience at least three recessions, and the grant programs continue to survive. Survival in rough times speaks to the value of the programs and the tenacity of their advocates. Both of those elements are in play now. The grant programs should survive this crisis also, but in what form?

Representatives from national associations, as well as Congressional staffers, are saying that it is time to review the effectiveness of the various grant programs and get rid of programs that don’t work and strengthen those that do. Also, there is a call to examine duplication that might exist within the scope of the DOJ and DHS grant programs and eliminate it. Certainly some of this will occur. However, look for greater change within each of the two programs than change that affects the boundaries that separates the two programs. Individual programs within DOJ and/or DHS may be tweaked or eliminated, but it will be more difficult to effect change where there is concern about duplication of jurisdiction or turf.

Turf wars between federal agencies are always in play and are seldom resolved. However, turf wars between Congressional appropriation subcommittees are geometrically harder to resolve. Hypothetically, the supply of boots and suits and robots that are used in unique situations and funded by one or two programs may now be sufficient, and, therefore, funding for those items may no longer be needed. However, it will be much more difficult to effect fundamental change that calls for adjustments in DHS and DOJ jurisdictions (e.g. will grants to law enforcement be within the sole jurisdiction of DOJ?). In the short term, funding may be reduced, but the programs will survive so they can be grown and strengthened in the long run.

Will there be DHS justice and public safety grants in FY 2009? Yes. Will there be DOJ criminal justice grants in FY 2009? Yes, but they obviously will be late. Will these grants fund information, identification and communications projects? Yes, whatever else the federal government needs for criminal justice and homeland security purposes, it needs complete and accurate information from state and local justice agencies. Will there be grants beyond FY 2009? Yes, but some programs will change, and there may be reductions in funding. At this point, the glass seems half full. Your strong advocacy will fill it. 

Gary R. Cooper is a partner at CJIS GROUP. CJIS GROUP is a market intelligence organization currently focused solely on state and local justice and public safety agencies procuring and employing information and identification technologies to improve the administration of justice and support the war on terrorism. He can be reached at gary@cjisgroup.com.

Published in Public Safety IT, Nov/Dec 2008

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