Previewing Round 5 of the Port Security Grant Program

The program has been labeled a disappointment from stakeholders in virtually every corner—from Homeland Security Department Inspector General Clark Kent Ervin’s report on port security and the Port Security Grant program, which criticized the program’s administration for allowing funds to be spent on low-priority projects, to American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) President Kurt Nagle’s assertion that the true problem is that the size of the Port Security Grant Program is too modest to address ports’ great security needs.
However, with new oversight of the program and a modest increase in the budget, should port security professionals be more optimistic in 2005? And will we see improvements in the grant’s administration now that the program has transferred to Office of Domestic Preparedness (ODP) oversight?
Increase
The fiscal year 2005/Round 5 Port Security Grant program has $150 million dedicated to it, up from $125 million in fiscal 2004. Increases of this size usually mean one of two things: Either we can expect an increase in the size of awards or an increase in the number of awards. ODP reports that is it likely that the number of awards will increase this year.
Also, according to administrators at the ODP, the office plans to utilize a grant management system created specifically for the Port Security Grant Program for fiscal 2005. In a move that should at least partially address Ervin’s contention that program goals are not being met due to poor program oversight, additional staff resources have been dedicated to the Port Security Grant Program to assist with technical assistance and monitoring.
When this article goes to print, it is likely that the FY2005 program timeline will have been established, and while March may be a little early to look for a request for proposals (RFP) (last year we didn’t see one until May), ODP is planning on an earlier issue date this year, which could potentially move all the program’s deadlines forward, from release of the RFP to award decisions. ODP officials have stated that the program’s requirements may be modified in FY2005 to “fit program needs.”
In other words, don’t assume that this year’s program guidance will be identical to last year’s. ODP has stated that its officials will consider “all national initiatives which may have an impact on the Port Security Grant Program when developing the Program Guidance for FY2005 [including] the DHS Border and Transportation Security Directorate on its Operation Safe Commerce cargo security program.”
Responding to criticism
I asked an ODP official how the department was going to address criticisms that prior funding has been spent on low-priority needs, rather than the most pressing vulnerabilities, referring specifically to Ervin’s findings. The official responded: “Although we disagree with some of the Inspector General’s conclusions, DHS/ODP has considered all of the Inspector General’s recommendations for the Port Security Grant Program and will work with the other federal partners involved with the policy development of the Program … to address them.” These partners include the Transportation Security Administration, the US Coast Guard, the Maritime Administration, Customs and Border Protection and the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate of DHS.
As many port security professionals are already aware, the FY2005 homeland security appropriations indicated that there are strong expectations of close coordination between port security grant recipients, state and local port authorities, and the captain of the port, based on a concern thatsuch coordination was lacking in the past.  When asked whether such coordination needed to be outlined in the application materials, ODP officials referred applications to the soon-to-be-released Program Guidance, and indicated that further terms and conditions may be outlined in the Notice of Grant Award should an award be made.
Getting ready
So what can applicants do to prepare right now?
First, if you intend to submit an application for Round 5 of the Port Security Grant program, you should already have in hand a complete security assessment. Based on these, applicants will need a clear and specific plan for addressing your priority security needs. If the release of the RFP and the deadlines follow a pattern similar to last year’s, you will not have a lot of time to formulate and submit your application. Make sure that you have information on hand that summarizes your port’s scope, its importance, the extent of its need for security and the community you serve.
It’s also not too early to start a Statement of Work. It will be a lot easier to make minor modifications to your project plan after carefully reviewing the Program Guidance than it would to pull together a Statement of Work from scratch with a deadline looming over your head. Even if your Statement of Work needs modification, information on your port will likely remain static and will require very little, if any, editing once you are ready to submit.
You can also begin to think about cost-sharing, which may strengthen your proposal. Last year, in-kind funds were sufficient. If your organization does not yet have a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number, get one immediately. The process can take more than a month to complete. DUNS numbers are now required information for most federal grant programs.
While the program guidance will likely be altered this year, we’re not talking about a major overhaul. A thorough read of last year’s application materials will give you a head start. HST
Kara Mitzel is manager of grants development services at the Grants Office, LLC, in Rochester, NY, a national grants consulting firm specializing in homeland security funding.

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