Maryland’s federal funding to combat terrorism may be in jeopardy as a result of Congress’s decision to cut more than $750 million from the Homeland Security Grant Program for 2006, but some experts say a nip here and a tuck there might not be a bad thing.
The program, which is designed to prevent, respond to and recover from acts of terrorism, was shaved from $2.52 billion in 2005 to $1.76 billion in 2006. Funding for fiscal year 2006 is the lowest since the program began in 2003.
The program is divided into several parts, the largest of which are the Urban Areas Security Initiative and the State Homeland Security Program. This year’s UASI funding was trimmed from $855 million to $765 million, and SHSP funding was cut nearly in half, from $1.06 billion to $550 million. The $185 million Emergency Management Performance Grant is no longer considered a part of the Homeland Security Grant Program.
Every state, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, will get at least .75 percent of the SHSP total because of its minimum funding requirement. States deemed to have greater risk will be awarded more.
Maryland received $42.2 million from the Homeland Security Grant Program last year, including $19.9 million from the SHSP and $11.4 million from the UASI.
The grants are used for emergency response equipment and planning, first responder training and salaries of emergency management personnel. The final amounts awarded to each state will be announced by May 31, the Department of Homeland Security said.
Simple math would indicate the state will get less than last year, even though more money is needed, said John Droneburg, director of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.
“(The grant program) has allowed Maryland to move significantly forward from where we were before 2003,” Droneburg said. “But are there more things that local jurisdictions would like to do? Absolutely.”
Droneburg said the 2006 grant money is most needed in Maryland to continue to improve communications, particularly the fiber networks that enable high-speed data transfer across the state.
“Some counties have made great strides, and some are just getting started,” he said.
Michael O’Hanlon, a defense strategy and budget expert at The Brookings Institution, believes the grants are essential to the country’s security, and current funding levels are of the right magnitude.
“This is national security,” O’Hanlon said. “It’s in the Constitution that the government provides for it.”
But because the local governments have to spend the grant money within a certain time period, there is a temptation to abuse the funds.
“The ‘use or lose’ mentality is a wasteful one,” he said.
Some examples of Maryland spending from the 2004 grant program: Carroll County bought a $90,000 reverse telephone emergency notification system, which can be used to notify all residents in a certain geographic area of an emergency; and it purchased a $42,000 security camera system for Winfield Fire Department in Sykesville.
Baltimore bought a $368,000 command post, a modified vehicle used to coordinate emergency operations, and a $218,000 security camera system.
With 2005 grant money, Ocean City bought a $129,000 robot used to safely investigate suspected bombs. Other common items purchased with grant money were mercury spill