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Funding Fusion Centers

Written by Gary Cooper

Although we are well into calendar year 2007 and halfway through the federal fiscal year 2007, federal justice and public safety grant awards are still months away from reaching agencies in need. The culprit that held up the awards of Department of Justice (DOJ) grant monies is the Congress, while the flow of monies from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is being held back from justice and public safety agencies by a rigorous planning process.

Appropriations for most executive branch departments including DOJ (but excluding DHS and DOD) didn’t materialize in the last Congress. A series of continuing resolutions (CRs) kept the government operating until the Republicans ceded power to the Democrats in January. Then the Democrats did the same thing until mid February, when they concluded that the CR process would be good enough for the country throughout the remainder of the year. So, given the nature of CRs, most federal programs and related budgets should operate in FY 2007 much as they did in FY 2006.

However, given that the CR was broad, there is some ambiguity regarding to what degree specific grant programs will be funded in relation to the FY 2006 levels. To clarify, the Congress has directed DOJ to submit a spending plan within 30 days from the date when the CR was passed in mid-February.

Assuming that DOJ abides with the notion that FY 2007 will reflect FY 2006 appropriations levels, there are some significant changes that will affect justice agencies seeking grants to plan for, procure and implement information and/or identification technologies for purposes of improving information sharing and making positive identifications. The first change is more money for selected programs, and the second is the availability of more competitive monies.

Within the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) administers a grant program called the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program. This program funds state and local justice agencies representing all justice disciplines; police, prosecution, courts, corrections, etc. The CR actually increased JAG by $109 million over FY 2006 levels. In addition, the office of Community Oriented Policing Services’ (COPS) funding was increased by $70 million.

While the CR clearly increased the JAG program within BJA, it did not indicate which program(s) within the COPS office would receive the increase. It is possible the increase in part or in whole could go to the Law Enforcement Technologies and Interoperable Communications grant program (COPS T&I) administered by COPS. Also, monies for the National Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP), administered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), appeared to be heading for a 50% reduction according to both House and Senate versions of the FY 2007 appropriations bills, but because the bills never became law, the CR maintained its FY 2006 level of funding. Similarly, the Crime Identification Technology Act (CITA) maintained its FY 2006 level of funding when it appeared it was going to be eliminated in FY 2007 and BJA’s Byrne Discretionary grant program also appears to have benefited from the CR.

So the FY 2007 DOJ grant programs that can provide assistance to state and local justice agencies seeking to improve their information management and sharing capabilities as well as positive identification capabilities might be as low as $895 million or as much as $965 million. That is still more than a $100 million increase in FY 2007. Table 1 compares and contrasts FY 2006 with FY 2007 appropriations and gives insight about what the 109th Congress was prepared to do, compared with the today’s 110th Congress.

The second change brought about through the CR deals with an increase in monies subject to competition. Or stated another way, the elimination of Congressional earmarks enables federal granting agencies to make more monies available for competition. A Congressional earmark directs the funding agency to fund a specific agency for a specific dollar amount for a specific purpose. The administration has stated that the FY 2005 appropriations for all federal programs contained 13,000 earmarks totaling nearly $18 billion. While paling in comparison, there still were hundreds of earmarks in the completely earmarked Byrne Discretionary grant program, the COPS T&I grant program and the CITA grant program that totaled in the hundreds of millions of dollars (see Table 1). In FY 2007, the earmarks are gone, thereby placing $360 million more dollars into play.

The president has called for earmark reform in his State of the Union address, and the new speaker of the House called for the elimination of earmarks, at least for FY 2007. While the process will change, don’t expect Congressional earmarks to go away for any length of time. Consistent with what OMB wants to do and with what staffers are saying, expect the return of earmarks in FY 2008, but expect individual Congress representatives and senators to be identified as sponsors for specific earmarks. The expectation is that earmarks will be dramatically reduced in number and those that are included will be of obvious and needed benefit. Stand by!

While it may be too early to indicate a trend, the bottom line still shows this new Congress is consistent with Democrat-controlled Congresses of the past. Under Democrat-controlled Congresses, federal grant programs to assist state and local justice agencies combat crime grew in terms of funding. In this Congress, this small but significant increase reverses a downward trend sustained over the past few years. It not only indicates greater support for increasing funding, but it also recognizes a difference between fighting crime and combating terrorism. Clearly both overlap, but the collection of justice information and the ability to positively identify subjects is essential to fighting crime, and this also serves the war on terrorism very well. The processes controlling how that information is shared and used sometimes differ. It appears that this Congress sees these differences and the need for two programs—one in DOJ and one in DHS.

The administration hasn’t seen it that way. Over the past several years, the administration has consistently pressured Congress to eliminate many of the DOJ programs. The rationale has been that the DHS grant programs fund the same efforts that the DOJ grant programs fund and that savings needed to be found to fund the Iraq war and to deal with the budget deficit. In FY 2008, the administration continues that approach, but in addition to cutting DOJ grant funds, it also is proposing to cut DHS funding. In addition, the administration is pointing out that significant amounts of money awarded to state and local justice and public safety agencies haven’t been used. Testifying before Congress in February, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff referenced that there is $5 billion from previous years’ grant funding sitting in the pipeline indicating the need for additional funding is lessened. A recent audit of 49,000 grants conducted by DOJ’s Inspector General’s Office found grant closure practices for COPS and OJP grants awarded since 1999 indicated problems of a similar nature. Table 2 shows the administration’s intent for FY 2007 and 2008 for both DOJ and DHS.

Because DHS was one of two federal departments to receive an appropriations for FY 2007 in the prescribed manner, its processes for awarding grants to state and local justice and public safety agencies is well under way. Well, most of it at any rate.

March 6 was the due date for applications for the Infrastructure Protection Program (IPP). This program consists of five separate security grant programs: Transit Security, Port Security, Intercity Bus, Trucking and the Buffer Zone Protection Program. The Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) is composed of several grant programs including the State Homeland Security Program (SHSP), the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) and the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program (LETTP). The state applications (state plans) that will determine the state allocation for these monies are due April 5. Table 3 sets out the appropriated amounts of monies for these programs.

While a grant program as large as that administered by DHS has many priorities, two stand above the others at this time. One is the establishment and operations of fusion centers at state and local levels, and two is the very tough problem of establishing a widespread interoperable communications capability throughout the nation.

There has been a lot of confusion regarding what a fusion center is. Determining how widespread their implementation and the national capability they bring has been a problem. Reliable sources have identified the number of fusion centers as totaling 1) more than 300, 2) just fewer than 100 and 3) between 1 and 2. While many think of fusion centers as a repository for intelligence information, they often also hold investigative information and information provided from private databases.

The Fusion Center Guidelines produced by DOJ’s Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative (Global) defines a fusion center as “an effective and efficient mechanism to exchange information and intelligence, maximize resources, streamline operations and improve the ability to fight crime and terrorism by merging data from a variety of sources.” Global then goes on and sets out 17 guidelines and key elements that taken together give a clearer description of what a fusion center is.

DHS, in its FY 2007 Homeland Security Grant Program: Supplemental Resource: Fusion Capability Planning Tool issued in January 2007, mandates that funds used from its SHSP, UASI or LETPP programs to establish / enhance state and local fusion centers must support 1) the development of a statewide fusion center process consistent with the global guidelines, and 2) the achievement of baseline levels of capability as defined the DHS’s Fusion Capability Planning Tool. DHS wants to establish fusion centers in each state and in each UASI site. LETPP funds in particular have been refocused on state and local fusion centers.

The process to provide funding specifically for interoperable communications is not moving as smoothly as with other DHS grant programs. When the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 passed, it authorized a $1 billion Public Safety Interoperable Communications (PSIC) grant program for state and local justice and public safety agencies. PSIC is to receive funds from the sale of commercial bandwidth in an auction that will take place in 2008. However, the Congress wanted the monies to be made available ASAP and directed the Treasury Department to advance the money to the Department of Commerce. Through the passage of the Call Home Act of 2006—and re-emphasized later in the Interoperable Emergency Communications Act—Congress stated strongly that it expected the monies to be awarded by Sept. 30, 2007.

Also, the monies were to be administered by DHS in conjunction with the Department of Commerce (DOC) pursuant to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreed to by each department. The MOU was to be completed by September 2006. On Feb. 8, 2007, in testimony before House Appropriations Committee, Secretary Chertoff indicated that it wasn’t likely that the deadline of Sept. 30 would be met. On Feb. 9 before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, he stated that the MOU would be completed within 10 days. On Feb. 16, the MOU was signed, setting forth the roles and responsibilities of both departments and stating, “As required in the recently enacted Call Home Act of 2006, the grants will be awarded by September 30, 2007…and grant projects will be completed in Fiscal Year 2010.”

With the new Congress in place, how will DHS monies be distributed and used? There has been and will continue to be quite a debate about the percent of monies going to rural states versus very populated states. As one would expect, the House leans more toward higher populated areas than the Senate, but the Democrats in both seem to be more supportive of risk-based allocations (as does the administration), and that translates into greater funding for high-density population centers. Another debate will focus on whether the monies will be used to deal more with terrorist activities, like those experienced by New York and Washington D.C., or natural calamities experienced by Louisiana and its neighboring states.

The administration and the Congress continue going in opposite directions in regard to the funding of grant programs assisting state and local justice and public safety information sharing and related positive identification initiatives (see Table 4).

Political pressures to wind down the war in Iraq, thus freeing-up dollars and the appreciation the Congress seems to have for the DHS and DOJ grant programs, bodes well for state and local justice and public safety agencies. To seal the deal, those agencies should make their representatives and senators aware of the needs that exist back in the homeland. It should be done soon. 

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, Mar/Apr 2007

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