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Stand by for change?

Written by Gary Cooper

The country’s immediate future is fraught with political change, lots of change. There will be a new president, a new House of Representatives, a new Senate, new cabinet members, new departmental management teams, and new and different priorities. The priorities will be shaped by issues such as a record deficit, a fear of recession, energy independence, and concerns for national security, among other things. The economy and national security, or national security and the economy, seem to be the Tier 1 issues. One has to go much further down the tiers of domestic policy issues to find crime and criminality. With all of this anticipated or feared change, what will happen to the grant programs that state and local first responders and justice officials have come to count on to do their part in meeting priorities set by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) or the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)? Whether it’s a war on drugs, the establishment of fusion centers, or putting 100,000 cops on the street, the federal grant programs have provided resources that enable local and state agencies to be responsive to federal initiatives.

On the surface, two major questions appear to be shaping the discussion surrounding the future of several grant programs that either fight crime (administered by DOJ) or fight terrorism (administered by DHS). First, is there enough money to fund both programs? And, second, should the priority be fighting terrorism when crime does not appear to be a driving concern of the citizenry?

On the questions of money and priority, recent history shows that the Bush administration has been trying to eliminate the justice assistance grant programs for years. The Congress, when controlled first by the Republicans and now by the Democrats, prevented that from happening but repeatedly gave a little ground to the administration on the justice programs year after year by appropriating more money than the administration requested for the war on terrorism. For years, the president signed those appropriations bill even though they funded the grant programs in ways contrary to his wishes. Then, in the past two years of his second term, he threatened to start vetoing appropriations bills that were funded at levels greater than his budget request. For the fiscal year 2008 appropriations process, the Congress blinked, and in the waning hours of December, it ended up passing an omnibus appropriations bill for all federal government departments except for the Department of Defense. During the frenzied process of cobbling that omnibus bill together, the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG) took a large hit. The dramatic reduction to justice assistance funding occurred not because of Congressional dissatisfaction with the program but because the Congress acted hastily to meet the president’s demand for fiscal restraint, and the program got lost in the shuffle. Accordingly, the Appropriations Committees of each House of Congress has passed out a FY 2009 appropriations bill that restores JAG to above FY 2007 levels. The action is encouraging, but the FY 2009 appropriations process appears to be as fractured as it was in FY 2008.

For you basketball aficionados, the Congress appears to be employing a “four corners” strategy with its approach to appropriating funds for the federal government for FY 2009. The Congress is staying on offense but is slowing down the game. It’s not giving the administration any opportunity to score points. To prevent presidential vetoes, the Congress refuses to pass any appropriations bills even though the end of the fiscal year is at hand. That approach is fine if your team is ahead, but in the case of the FY 2009 appropriations game, neither side seems to be leading. The clock is running out with no points being scored, leaving the fans frustrated and, in some cases, more than frustrated. The Congressional plan is to wait and see who the next president will be. If the Democrat is elected, then don’t expect the Congress to pass an appropriations bill until after his inauguration. If the Republican is elected, then it’s possible, but certainly not a given, that the Congress would act before 2009. So, while the game was scheduled to end on Sept. 30, it probably won’t conclude until Jan. 20, 2009 because the players appear to be occupied by other activities that peak on the second Tuesday of November in 2008. So what happens in the meantime?

Continuing resolutions (CRs) are what happens in the meantime. Basically, that means that Congress will pass a CR (which the president must sign to become effective) for a limited time period (e.g. a week or a month or several months), and the federal government will be funded to operate during that period based upon the previous fiscal year’s appropriation. So, a one-month CR would fund the federal government at 1/12 of its FY 2008 appropriations for that month. According to Cabell Cropper, executive director for the National Criminal Justice Association, a CR also means that granting agencies cannot give grants from the monies made available from a CR unless the CR explicitly directs such funding. So, theoretically, if Congress were to rely on typical CRs for all of FY 2009, then no grants would be made available. If, on the other hand, Congress passes an appropriations bill or a budget resolution following the inauguration of the new president after Jan. 20, 2009, then grant monies will probably not begin to hit the street until September 2009. Not only does that mean that justice and public safety agencies have to deal with back-to-back years of late funding and all of the operational difficulties that come with it, it also means that potential recovery from the reduction that JAG suffered in FY 2008 will have to wait until the last quarter of 2009.

Assuming that the Congress does pass a FY 2009 appropriations bill (and it will probably be another omnibus bill), what can we expect? As referenced earlier, the Congress has taken the next major step in the FY 2009 appropriations process. The full appropriations committees in both Houses have reported out appropriations bills that contain the DHS and DOJ grant programs. The actions of the appropriations committees are indicative of how the Congress sees the immediate future of grant funding. Tables 1-3 show a modest increase in DHS grant funding (Table 1) and a greater increase in DOJ funding (see Table 2 on page 28). These tables do not list all grant programs administered by either DOJ or DHS but do list those programs that are used often to procure information, identification, and communications technologies and related consulting. Funding for all of these programs shows a potential increase of between $400M and $500M (see Table 3 on page 28).

The big loser if a CR is the vehicle for FY 2009 funding is, once again, the JAG program because FY 2008 levels have JAG at $170M. At this point, the FY 2009 proposals by the Congress are between $550 million and $580 million.

In anticipation of a new era, responsible groups around the country are preparing to advocate their visions of how justice should be administered and national security ensured in the post 9/11-world. Most justice and public safety agencies have a foot in both camps. It’s fair to say that national security cannot be ensured without great effort from the state and local justice community. If the administration of justice is injured, then national security will be also. The programs must work in concert. Homeland security will not be attained without a strong and vigorous justice system. Therefore, federal grant support must be available for both purposes. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the U.S. Conference of Mayors are but two groups concerned about current federal policies and practices that do not show an awareness of support for joint interests.

The IACP recently released a document titled, “To Protect and Defend: Challenges to Public Safety and Homeland Security Facing the Next U.S. President.” The IACP points out that … “in the years since Sept. 11, 2001, 99,000 Americans have been murdered, and each year, roughly 1.4 million Americans are the victims of violent crime. The ability of U.S. law enforcement agencies to reduce these horrific numbers has been hindered by a combination of factors. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, local law enforcement agencies have been required to do more to protect their communities against terrorism. Yet surprisingly, resources available to the local law enforcement community have been decimated. As a result, the ability of law enforcement agencies to remain fully staffed, purchase necessary equipment, and ensure that their officers receive essential training has been severely hindered.” The IACP claims that “the reduction in resources for state, tribal and local law enforcement agencies is a result of the federal government’s need to focus on homeland security efforts. Unfortunately, funding federal homeland security efforts at the expense of state, tribal and local law enforcement agencies weakens, rather than enhances, national security.” The document highlights priority areas that law enforcement executives believe are in the greatest need of immediate action including adequate federal grant funding and the promotion of intelligence and information sharing and says “the timely and effective sharing of information among law enforcement agencies will also benefit law enforcement efforts to combat all crimes.” The Conference of Mayors in a statement released on July 14 calls on Congress to reauthorize and fund the COPS program and to fund the JAG program “…at no less than the FY 2005 level of $634 million.”

The state and local justice and public safety community is calling for more support for federal justice assistance and improved coordination of the DOJ and DHS grant programs by the new administration and Congress. In fact, in the aforementioned report, the IACP is calling on the new president, through executive order and in the first 110 days of his administration, “…to establish a national commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system and provide the nation with a strategic plan that will guide an integrated public safety and homeland security effort in the years ahead.” This hasn’t been done since 1965 under President Lyndon Johnson. The IACP rightly points out those the recommendations that came from the Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice in 1965 “…marked the beginning of a sea change in our methods for dealing with crime and the public and built the framework for many of the exemplary programs that continue today.” To make this happen, the voice of the state and local community needs to get louder and the hearing of the presidential candidates and Congress needs to get better. While waiting for 2009, things are going very slowly in the real world of getting out federal justice and public safety grant funding.

By Congressional rule, the FY 2008 appropriations were supposed to be passed by the end of September 2007 not December 2007. As a result of this tardiness and with more than half of the calendar year and almost all of the federal fiscal year gone, grant monies to states and localities are only beginning to be awarded for 2008. (To view individual state and local allocations for these programs go to www.cjisgroup.com.) First responders will find that there will be more DHS money on the street in 2008 to fight terrorism than in 2007. Criminal justice agencies will find that in 2008, there is less DOJ money available to fight crime than there was in 2007. State and local first responders and justice agencies will all have to scramble to cover costs as a result of bridging grant years 2007 and 2008 caused by slow federal decision making and partisan politics.

DHS grant programs often used to procure information, identification and communications technologies including the State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP), the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), the Infrastructure Protection Grant Program (IPP) and the Assistance to Fire Fighters Grant Program (AFP) received an appropriation of about $3 billion in 2007 and $3.4 billion in 2008. On the other hand, DOJ grant programs often used to procure the same technology and including JAG and the COPS Law Enforcement and Technology Grant Program received an appropriation of about $684 million in 2007 but only $375 million in 2008. Recent attempts by the Congress to supplement the 2008 JAG appropriations and return it to 2007 levels have failed.

Stand by for change? It’s certainly needed, and opportunity seems to be knocking. Will you be heard? Not if you don’t speak out.

Gary R. Cooper is the vice president of consulting and research 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, Sep/Oct 2008

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