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Future of national information exchange partnership grant funding still up in the air

Written by Gary Cooper

For almost 40 years, state and local justice agencies have received grant monies from the federal government to fight crime and improve the administration of justice. That means a generation of state and local public administrators and legislators have come to rely on those grant monies when they make decisions about allocating scarce resources to serve their citizens. Is it appropriate, then, for states and local units of government to expect to receive federal monies annually to fight crime that is really a local problem? Does the federal government or the nation as a whole have any responsibility to a particular city, county or state justice system? Is justice delivered more efficiently, effectively and fairly when cooperation and partnering occurs among and between justice entities in all of the localities, all of the states and at the federal level? Obviously, many justice officials believe the answer to each of these questions is yes.

Criminals and their crime know no geographic boundaries in our mobile society. City and county limits and state borders don’t stop the shipments of drugs, organized crime, the movement and sale of stolen property, etc. Recognizing that a changing society had to address crime in a new way, the president and Congress in the late ’60s created a federal block grant program administered by a new U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) agency called the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA). Grant monies from LEAA were used to fashion a justice system as opposed to an approach where agencies were mostly acting independently of one another and largely unaware and unconcerned about what other justice agencies were doing. Over the years, multi-discipline and multi-jurisdictional planning groups and commissions have emerged, promoting and working hard to ensure closer working relationships among law enforcement, prosecution, courts and corrections within a jurisdiction, and between jurisdictions, be they cities, counties or states. This has occurred more in urban and suburban settings than in the rural environment. Viewing the delivery of justice as a systemic endeavor forced all players to investigate the benefits of working together. This was true for the federal government as well. In order for the federal justice system to function optimally, it had needs of the state and local justice system. Federal investigative agencies rely to a great degree on information supplied by state and local justice agencies. While the fuel that enabled and supported this systems approach was grant money, the lubricant that enabled operation of the system was information sharing. Timely, accurate, and complete justice information had to be collected, managed, and shared readily at all levels of government for the justice system to work.

Individual states and the federal government have become huge consumers of locally generated information. They then aggregate that information and return it to the local contributors as well as to the many non-justice agencies of government, private companies, and society at large. Clearly, justice agencies need information supplied from other justice agencies to conduct criminal investigations, to prosecute and sentence offenders, and to collect needed intelligence. But in addition, tens of thousands of non-justice entities use justice information supplied by local justice agencies daily to complete background checks on prospective employees, volunteers who supervise the elderly or young, or to credential or license people in specialized fields. The delivery of justice has improved as a result of the systems approach and the partnerships it has spawned. While certain types of violent crime are rising slightly in some areas, the crime rate has dropped precipitously in the last 15 years. Certainly the availability of justice information and data for investigations and planning has played a part in that. The system also has to be flexible in order to address changes in crime and criminality and new laws and policy. It also has to allow for new partnerships. Passage of the Brady Bill in the ’90s required background checks for the sale of guns, causing new systems to be put in place to serve new uses. To address today’s crime problems appropriately, the system needs to continue to improve. This is especially true because the partnerships that make up the system have been made to grow significantly in number and scope of responsibilities after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

As a result, we speak of the justice and public safety community when describing those who are involved in the war on terrorism and response to natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. In addition to traditional justice agencies such as law enforcement, first responders include fire departments, offices of emergency services, medical workers, and others. The justice system (police, prosecution, courts and corrections), then, is a subsystem of the justice and public safety system. This depiction is not meant to diminish the role of the justice system in any way. In fact, the justice and public safety system could not function without the justice system. This is particularly true when speaking of information sharing. The value of the justice information infrastructure cannot be overstated in terms of its importance in the war on terrorism or when dealing with the occurrence of natural disasters.

To address the information and other needs of the state and local justice and public community following Sept. 11, a series of new grant programs was created in 2003 within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Several of those programs, as is the case with the DOJ grant programs, can be used by state and local agencies to procure information, identification, or communication technologies. These are critical technologies enabling information sharing about crimes and the positive identification of criminals. These grant programs are relatively large state and local assistance programs. Within the DOJ, those programs are the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG), the COPS Law Enforcement Technology Grant Program (COPS Tech). Within the DHS, the programs are the State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP), the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention (LETPP) Grant Program, the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) Grant Program, the Infrastructure Protection Grant Program (IPP) the Interoperable Emergency Communications (IEC) Grant Program and the Assistance to Firefighters Program (AFP). For the past three years, these programs have been both attacked and supported by various political forces. The administration’s budget requests for fiscal years 2007, 2008 and 2009 have all called for the elimination of the JAG and COPS Tech Programs. In FY 2006, Congress appropriated $416 million for JAG and $140 million for COPS Tech, followed in FY 2007 with appropriations of $525 million for JAG and $159 million for COPS Tech. But then in FY 2008, Congress gutted the JAG program by reducing its funding to $170 million. The COPS Tech program fared better with an appropriation of $205 million (See Table 1).

While the administration has not been so draconian with the DHS programs, it has been attempting to reduce funding for those programs in a significant manner. Table 2 shows that the president’s total budget request for FY 2008 programs was $1.2 billion less than the FY 2007 appropriations, and his FY 2009 budget request for those same programs is $1.6 billion less than the FY 2008 congressional appropriation. On the other hand, Congress appropriated $2.7 billion for these programs in FY 2006 (not shown in the table), $3 billion in FY 2007 and $3.4 billion in FY 2008.

In FY 2008, SHSGP grew by $425 million to $950 million, UASI grew by $50 million to $820 million, IPP grew by $209 million to $878 million, and AFP grew by $88 million to $750 million. See Table 2 for the appropriation for each of the programs.

While LETPP received no appropriations, 25% of the SHSGP and UASI programs are to be used for LETPP purposes. That amounts to $442 million.

In 2009, are we at a crossroads regarding the federal and state / local partnership that has been fashioned over nearly 40 years of grant funding? Will the federal government eliminate the monies needed to support the national justice and public safety information infrastructure? Will the federal government recognize that the injury the JAG program suffered in 2008, if not repaired, will seriously wound the information infrastructure needed to fight terrorism and respond to natural disasters? Will officials recognize that attacking the grant programs (DOJ and/or DHS) will injure the local / state / federal partnerships and a fractured partnership will cripple information sharing and thus have a negative impact on the delivery of justice?

From a funding perspective, FY 2009 is being shaped in FY 2008. The president is threatening to veto appropriations bills that surpass the amounts set out in his budget request for FY 2009. Congress is threatening to delay passing appropriations bills until the new president is inaugurated, escaping the veto threat and relying on a different relationship with a new president. But, that’s not until January 20, 2009, wasting almost one-third of the federal fiscal year before these issues are resolved and making governing extremely difficult. If the squabbles between the administration and Congress cannot be resolved, that leaves appropriating via a continuing resolution. In essence, that means funding in FY 2009 at FY 2008 levels. The effects will not be critical for the grant programs in general except for the JAG program and those who depend upon its monies.

Presently, a hard battle is being fought in support of restoring what was cut from JAG via a Department of Defense supplemental appropriations bill, which some analysts say could move any day now. The National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) has convened a coalition of associations, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Sheriff’s Association in an effort to demonstrate to Congress the degree of injury it is causing state and local justice agencies in their efforts to fight crime and terrorism.

Members of these associations (state and local officials) are presenting their arguments to state governors and attorneys general, who are in turn, voicing their complaints to their Congressional delegations and appropriators. So far, each state’s attorney general and a group of governors have asked for JAG monies to be restored.

According to NCJA, Republican senators have petitioned the president to restore the monies. In addition, 218 members of the House have signed a letter to their leadership asking that funding be restored. And, 53 senators have signed a “Dear Colleague letter” that is circulating through the Senate advocating the same message.

While this effort is impressive, advocates for other programs that were hurt in the 2008 appropriations process are attempting to use the supplemental appropriations in the same way. If the supplemental is lit up like a Christmas tree, then everyone will loose to a veto.

Meanwhile, getting the 2008 grant funds on the street is taking some time. Delivery of grant monies is late because Congress did not conclude its appropriations responsibilities until very late December as opposed to the end of October. So the granting agencies within the DOJ and DHS couldn’t finalize and publish their grant guidelines until after more than a quarter of the fiscal year elapsed. Don’t expect monies from SHSGP and UASI to hit the streets until mid August. There are rumors but no official word yet regarding if or how the JAG monies are going to be allocated.

Certain federal funding priorities remain in place such as the establishment of fusion centers and interoperable voice communications capabilities. UASI and SHSGP will get more competitive as a result of two things. First, less guaranteed money is going to each state, and second, grant award decisions are being driven more and more by risk assessment. Each state will receive 0.375% of the total appropriations. This is considerably less than was the case three years ago. Now, more grant monies are going where larger numbers of people are located instead of being spread more evenly among the states. States will get allocations based on the strength of their arguments, which will be based upon a description of their risk, vulnerability to attack and how the risk will be mitigated. In addition, DHS is emphasizing that all hazards should be addressed more than addressing only terrorism. So, the states are expected to give greater emphasis to protecting against and responding to calamities than has been the case in the past.

The shaping of 2009 funding has begun. The appropriations subcommittees have begun hearings and are receiving testimony regarding what should be done in 2009, and this includes what grant programs should address. Usually, a picture of what the grant programs will resemble and to what degree they are funded begins to emerge in mid-summer.

Certainly the effectiveness and efficiency of the DOJ and DHS grant programs can and should be improved. Expect the new administration and Congress to pursue those improvements. But the president and Congress need to recognize that curtailing funding doesn’t just eliminate funds from individual state and local justice agencies. The nation’s justice and public safety system that the federal government has fostered and nurtured for decades and that works so well for the states, localities and the federal government will suffer irreparable harm.

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, May/Jun 2008

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