O'Malley Scolds Feds for Homeland Security Grant Process

Capital News Service
Friday, January 27, 2006

WASHINGTON - Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley Friday criticized Department of Homeland Security officials for inefficiently allocating grant money and failing to establish tangible priorities.

O'Malley was presiding over a homeland security task force meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors at the Capital Hilton Hotel. Twenty mayors from across the nation attended.

O'Malley said the department "had no answers again" when he asked two homeland security directors in attendance about the top three priorities of the department.

The pair -- Office of Grants and Training Executive Director Tracy Henke and Coordination and Preparedness Acting Director Chet Lunner -- did not directly answer the question, but promised O'Malley they would work to get local governments appropriate resources.

"It's the same assurances we receive every year," O'Malley said. "I believe if you continue to cut funding at the current rate, it'll be eliminated."

The directors could not be reached for comment after the meeting.

Baltimore received $11.4 million from the Urban Area Security Initiative in 2005, down from $15.8 million in 2004. Total funding for the initiative, which is a part of the Homeland Security Grant Program, was cut from $855 million in 2005 to $765 million in 2006. Funding for first-responder block grants was cut this year from $1.1 billion to $550 million. The overall budget for DHS increased by $2.6 billion for fiscal year 2006.

The current system of allocating these funds to cities routes the money through the state. In Maryland, the money is filtered through the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency. O'Malley is among the mayors who have argued for the money to go directly to the cities.

Henke said her department's mission is to help on the state and local levels through funding, training, exercises and technical assistance. When asked if she thought the budget cuts will stop, Henke said it will be "a collective decision."

Risks change, said Lunner. To make that prediction now would be difficult or impossible, he said.

Several mayors complained the application process for getting the federal grant money is confusing and cumbersome. There were also common frustrations over how to connect with first responders and get money and resources where they need to be.

Henke, who was appointed to her position three weeks ago, apologized that changes to these policies had not been made earlier.

"I commit to you to work so that it doesn't happen again," Henke said.

- 30 - CNS-1-27-06