Homeland Security and Public Safety

How UASI Cities Can Save Their Funding and Programs

More than 30 Urban Areas Security Initiative cities and regions didn’t get funding for fiscal 2011, and the future looks even darker

For fiscal year 2011, 33 Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) cities did not receive funding, and although the regions may not feel the cuts immediately, the long-term impacts could be great. The UASI program — which began in 2003 with $100 million to strengthen regional preparedness in seven large metropolitan areas — was appropriated $662 million for fiscal ’11 to distribute among the designated 64 urban areas. The funding is about $170 million less than was available for fiscal year 2010, and has many UASI city representatives wondering how they will sustain their programs and capabilities long term.

Josh Filler, former director of the Office of State and Local Government Coordination for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), had a couple explanations for the funding decrease: “No. 1, neither FEMA nor the states and localities have done a very good job of educating members of Congress and other leaders on the effectiveness of these programs. It’s almost been assumed that everyone is aware of all the good work that’s been done — that’s a false assumption.”

Filler, president of homeland security consulting firm Filler Security Strategies, cited the lack of an organization that lobbies, educates and advocates on behalf of UASIs as another reason.

The lack of funding is causing some UASI regions to rethink their programs and scale back initiatives. Columbus, Ohio, was one of the 33 areas that didn’t receive funding for fiscal 2011 and was forced to reprioritize its available funding, said Kathy Crandall, director of Homeland Security and Justice Programs for Franklin County, Ohio. “We changed our strategy and have to approach it from a much more narrow perspective and widen the field of private sector and citizen prioritization,” she said. “We were already moving down the road to start moving it out of government and into the hands of the private sector and the citizens, knowing that eventually that money’s going to come to an end.”

Crandall added that the toughest part has been the federal funding reductions that have hit at the same time state level funding has decreased. To maintain the progress made to date in the Columbus region, officials are maximizing dollars by merging efforts in order to have a broader outcome. John Rockwell, director of public safety for the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, said it’s come down to looking at what the area can “live without.”

The 33 UASIs without renewed funding for fiscal 2011 will be able to continue through 2013 using money from fiscal 2010. However, there’s a misconception that there’s money available in the pipeline. “A lot of folks are thinking that there’s a bunch of money sitting there going unspent, but it’s all planned,” said Capt. Michael Corwin, homeland security commander of the Kansas City, Mo., Police Department.

Filler agreed that the UASIs don’t have unspent money. He said the UASI grant is given each year, but the cities have three years to spend the money. “Think of it this way: You sign a contact with a company to do interoperable communications in your region, and it’s a five-year, $25 [million] to $30 million deal. We have a legal contract that that money is now obligated to that contract. I am not going to give you the $30 million the day we sign the contract, I am going to pay you increments when you deliver and it’s approved and tested.”

Filler added that there’s little understanding in Congress as to how the grant process really works between the annual appropriation, three-year performance period and the obligation of funds versus actual expenditures.

UASIs Unite

Even though not all of the UASI cities lost funding for fiscal 2011, they are standing together.

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when we’re going to have the next terrorist attack,” Corwin said. “So if we take the money away, we’re going to have another attack and then all of a sudden everybody’s going to be all freaked out and they’re going to say, ‘We need to put some money toward this again.’ And the cycle will start. Well, let’s break the cycle. Keep the 64 UASIs together, and keep that information flowing.”

Rocky Vaz, intergovernmental services manager of Dallas, which did receive UASI funding for fiscal ’11, said three UASI programs in Texas were cut. City officials are in talks with the delegation and government leaders to see that all UASI cities get funded in the future. Vaz said each UASI was selected because it is a high-threat urban region and port city, and Congress needs to provide enough funding to sustain all of them.

And keeping all UASI cities funded benefits everyone. UASI areas are divided into two tiers, with Tier I being the most at risk. However, one area’s accomplishments often supports the other cities.
“Even though you may not be a Tier I city, what happens in your city and what you develop in your city has an impact on those Tier I cities,” said Columbus’ Rockwell. “We prevented a major terrorist event in New York City by one of our arrests. So I think that needs to be right at the forefront when you talk about any formulas you come up with, prevention should be a component and I think people aren’t taking that into consideration.”

At the 2011 National UASI and Homeland Security Conference in San Francisco June 20-23, many of the nation’s UASI directors and representatives thought too much money was being directed overseas. “What I would argue is why we’re considering giving $11.7 billion to Afghanistan to protect the Afghani people [and] why we’re giving $8 billion to Pakistan,” Corwin said.

Justifying the Funding

To save the program, Filler said state and local governments must measure the effectiveness of their UASIs and communicate that data with the elected officials in Congress and the Senate. “If they don’t do that, I think the end state is quite clear: These programs die. They will terminate these programs,” he said.

Crandall and her colleagues already are working on writing letters, calling Congress and testifying about the UASI program. She emphasized that they are advocating on behalf of all UASIs and added, “Everyone needs to be funded at least at the 2010 level.”

As they work to justify the need for funding, fiscal 2012’s numbers look even grimmer. Filler wrote in an opinion piece: “Fiscal 2012 essentially serves as the beginning of the end for federal support to states and localities for homeland security with a $1.2 billion cut as passed in the House of Representatives. This leaves just $708 million for all programs including those for major urban areas, mass transit, ports and states.”

It will be interesting to watch how things pan out for the UASI cities and regions because as Col. Robert Williams, program manager of the New Orleans’ UASI, said, “Funding greases the wheels of regional collaboration.”


Elaine Pittman  |  Managing Editor

Managing Editor Elaine Pittman has nearly a decade of experience in writing and editing, having started her career with The Coloradoan daily newspaper in Fort Collins, Colo. Elaine joined Emergency Management in 2008, and she can be reached via email and @elainerpittman on Twitter.