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Cornyn and Feinstein introduce bill to ensure homeland security funding is based on risk

Bipartisan risk-based Homeland Security Grants Act of 2007 would make sure funding goes where needed most

From the Office of Senator John Cornyn

February 28, 2007

Government - Senator Cornyn picture WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Vice Chairman of the Republican Conference, joined U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Feb. 15 to introduce bipartisan legislation requiring that federal homeland security grants for state and local governments be allocated on a risk-based assessment. The Risk-Based Homeland Security Grants Act of 2007 would improve the way homeland security dollars are distributed and ensure funding goes to the most vulnerable places in the country in a fiscally responsible way.

“We must ensure that homeland security funding goes where it’s needed most,” Sen. Cornyn said. “It’s critical that we more effectively protect our nation’s citizens, vulnerable infrastructure and places where an attack could devastate the economy. So I hope our colleagues will support this bill to greatly improve the way homeland security resources are allocated.”

The Risk-Based Homeland Security Grants Act of 2007 would ensure that funding is most efficiently allocated by establishing a formula for homeland security grants based on risk, which takes into consideration threat, vulnerability and consequence. It requires states to quickly distribute federal funds to areas where they are most needed, provides greater flexibility and allows states to use the funding for other hazards consistent with federally established capability standards.

The Feinstein-Cornyn legislation would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002. It is an updated version of a bill introduced last year and is in line with Department of Homeland Security changes for 2007. It also simplifies the Urban Areas Security Initiative by ensuring that all previously eligible areas are certified.

The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

The Risk-Based Homeland Security Grants Act of 2007 would:

  • Direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to allocate funding to homeland security grants based on risk analysis. This direction covers the four major first-responder grant programs administered by Department of Homeland Security in addition to some grants for seaport and airport security - called “covered grants” in the bill, including:
    1. The State Homeland Security Grant Program;
    2. The Urban Area Security Initiative;
    3. The Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program; and
    4. The Citizens Corps Program.
  • Reduce the “small state minimum” to .25 percent per state. Current practice requires each state to get .75 percent of much of the grant funding. That means roughly 38 percent of the funds are marked for distribution before any risk analysis.
  • Require grants be designed to meet “essential capabilities.” Essential capabilities refer to the ability of jurisdictions to address risks by reducing vulnerability to attack and diminishing the consequences of such an attack by effective response. This bill ensures that grant funds are properly accounted for and utilized within an integrated framework to enhance security.
  • Ensure that States quickly and effectively pass on Federal funds to where they are needed so that Federal funds are not held back and the process moves forward in a timely, efficient manner.

Below is Sen. Cornyn’s statement submitted for the Senate Record on the risk-based funding bill:

Mr. President, I rise today to join with my colleague, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California , and several of our distinguished colleagues in introducing The Risk-Based Homeland Security Grants Act of 2007.

Senator Feinstein, myself, and other Senators have been working now for several years on changing how our homeland security dollars are distributed throughout the country. Some have been talking about the need for a risk-based allocation of assistance as long as the Department of Homeland Security has been in existence. Throughout these debates, Senator Feinstein has been a tireless advocate in this effort, and I would like to thank her for her fine leadership and collaboration in crafting this legislation.

The attacks on our country on September 11, 2001 were unprecedented in our history, and they brought with them the need for similarly unprecedented security measures. Our nation needed to respond quickly to the devastation that day delivered to our country, so the federal government created a system that worked to raise overall national emergency preparedness to ensure we could better guard against another such terrorist attack.

And so, we embarked on the task of shoring up our airline, transportation, border, and port security. We worked to protect our critical infrastructure, to protect our cyber security, our agriculture and food-supply systems.

But taxpayer dollars are not limitless, and Congress must work to ensure every penny be directed where it will do the most good. It is imperative that we guard the places across our nation where terrorists are most likely to strike, and where such strikes could do the most damage to our people, our government, and our national economy. We believe this is the most responsible way to prepare for any future attack.

We need to have a system that will protect our most vulnerable assets and populations – one that recognizes the need to protect the critical infrastructure and vital components of our national economy. I am reminded of this often when I travel around my home state of Texas . Recently, I met with officials and business leaders from Houston and Southeast Texas and discussed their homeland security needs. Their needs are enormous considering the vast amount of critical infrastructure and energy facilities in and among large population centers. The potential consequences of a terrorist attack on any of these facilities would be devastating, not only to the local communities, but to the economic engine of the whole country. Unfortunately, we got a small taste of effects of a disaster along America ’s energy coast during the storms of 2005—hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The legislation that Senator Feinstein and I are proposing would require that Federal Homeland Security funds be allocated to states according to a risk-based assessment. It is vital that we better allocate our limited resources to the vulnerable places in the country we most need to protect, and that that these funds are distributed in an efficient and timely manner.

Since we began this effort, I am pleased that there has been progress made. The considerations of threat, vulnerability, and consequence have been incorporated into more homeland security programs. But I’m concerned that we haven’t done enough. And I’m concerned that our homeland security dollars are being treated as a pie in which all states get to claim a piece, regardless of risk.

This approach is inconsistent if we truly evaluate the 9/11 Commission recommendations. They clearly call for allocation of money based on an assessment of risks.

Our legislation provides for a distribution formula for homeland security grants based on risk, which considers three main criteria: threat, vulnerability, and consequence. It requires states to quickly pass on federal funds to areas where they are most needed. It provides greater flexibility in using the funds, allowing a state to use them for other hazards consistent with federally established capability standards. And it allows States to retain authority to administer grant programs, but there are penalties for states that do not pass funds to local governments within 45 days, and if a state fails to pass the funds through, local governments may petition the Department of Homeland Security to receive the funds directly.

It is our hope and intent that, by introducing this bill, we can positively contribute and enrich the public discourse on this critical issue, and help move the nation toward a more rational and effective distribution of our homeland security resources.

Continuing to spread Homeland Security funds throughout the nation—irrespective of the actual risk to particular states and communities—would be to ignore much of what we have learned as part of our effort to assess our vulnerabilities since the attacks of September 11. So I would urge that we swiftly work to pass this legislation, to better ensure the safety of our citizens.

Sen. Cornyn serves on the Armed Services, Judiciary and Budget Committees. In addition, he is Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship subcommittee and the Armed Services Committee’s Airland subcommittee.

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