NEWS

The Homeland Security Grant Pie

By Matthew Harwood

TIME magazine has gotten hold of a new report by the Congressional Research Service, Congress' nonpartisan think tank, which states "the rationalization" of homeland security grants isn't so rational after all.

Before the recent passage of "Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act," the Department of Homeland Security was criticized for how it doled out homeland security grants with small, rural states at a minimal risk of terrorism receiving too much, while major metropolitan areas truly at risk of terrorism got shortchanged.

Everything was supposed to be fixed with the passage of the aforementioned legislation, but as TIME magazine reports, CRS has discovered that small, rural states still will receive too much. Here's why:

Under the old formula, every state was guaranteed at least .75% of the state-grant program — a very high minimum compared to other federal programs, which made sure that even less populous states with a relatively small risk of terrorism received a sizable chunk of cash. Since 9/11, billions of dollars in homeland-security grants have gone out under this bizarre and nonsensical formula, which TIME investigated in-depth in 2004. In the new law, however, Congress cut the minimum to .375%, and set the percentage to decline a little bit more each additional year.

Cutting the minimum in half, from .75% to .375%, sounds like real progress, right? But it turns out that, while the new formula reduces the percentage, it starts with a much bigger pool. The minimum percentage, as written into the law, is now a percentage of state grants plus something called the Urban-Area Security Initiative, a separate program dedicated to high-risk cities. That program accounted for $747 million in 2007. So the impact of the lower percentage is undercut by the use of a much bigger denominator, notes the report, authored by CRS employees Shawn Reese and Steven Maguire.

TIME does some calculations and finds that under the new formula small and rural states will receive .05 percent less than they are currently getting now. As they say, it's a start, but not the rationalization the bill's supporters tauted as a major accomplishment of the 110th Congress.

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