State homeland security grants: What constitutes pass-through?

Pass-through typically follows one or a combination of three patterns, including discretionary (competitive) grants, formula (non-competitive) grants, and in-kind distribution. Congress places no specific requirements on which methods states should use, so once the funds reach the state level, the state administering agency determines both how the funds will be distributed and what additional requirements the state will place on the funds (such as matching and reporting requirements).
Competitive Grants
The state agency responsible for administering state homeland security funds (and the homeland security or emergency preparedness committee to which it is accountable) may offer funding in the form of competitive grant awards. In this case, the state will hold a competition for some or all of the available funds. Eligible applicants are provided with a list of eligible uses of funds and the state and federal priorities their applications must address (both derived from the federal statute that created the program), along with forms and certifications derived from a combination of state and federal requirements.
Applications first responders submit to the state are usually reviewed by teams of volunteers who receive cursory training on the program and scoring criteria before being let loose to score proposals. Proposals are ranked by their scores and undergo one final review by a senior administrator in the agency, to ensure fair and equitable distribution across as many fields of consideration as possible (geographic, urban/rural, high need areas, political hot spots). This last review may result in an otherwise higher scoring proposal being replaced by a low-scoring one, but since this political reality is based on factors almost entirely beyond local control, including the number of strong proposals coming out of your region, it’s not worth worrying about. It’s best just to repeat the serenity prayer and redouble your efforts at producing the strongest proposal you can.
“Very Discretionary” Grants
Congress allows states only 60 days to turn funds around to the local level, making it difficult for many state agencies to manage much of an organized grant competition. In an effort to meet the legal requirements of the funds, states may circumvent the competitive process described above and distribute grants to those homeland security projects they already know are in the works around the state. As you might imagine, there is a high risk of political logrolling and overall pork associated with this type of distribution, but again, if this is the political realityin your state, don’t expect your disdain alone to get you your share of the pie.
Instead, and this seems to be the best overall advice in the current climate, get ready to advocate for your project. Have your plan on the decision-maker’s desk when funding decisions are being made, work with the state and local committees to communicate your needs as they relate to state and regional security issues, and above all, have a detailed, written plan for the project in an easily accessible place, so you can pull it down and submit it to any relevant opportunity that comes down the pipe.
Formula Grants
Another way states are dealing with the tight timeframes imposed on them by Congress is to pass out funds based on a formula. Again, Congress doesn’t say what formula states must use, so it’s up to the states to determine their priorities. Some common formulas take into account population and income statistics, threat matrices around the state, metropolitan statistical area (MSA) data, or other crime statistics. Failure to submit the appropriate forms may still disqualify you from obtaining your share, so it’s important to contact the office of your state’s homeland security coordinator for details.
In-kind Distribution
States have enormous purchasing power and they can exercise that power to obtain significant price reductions on goods and services. Last year, when state homeland security funds were still quite new, many states chose to purchase equipment that they thought would benefit the first responders they represented. However, it quickly became clear that this one-size-fits-all approach was not going to be well received by the first responder community, each member of which had unique plans and needs.
In many ways, Congress and the Department of Homeland Security are still working out the kinks in the system, and future years’ homeland security funds will probably be managed in a much more uniform and predictable manner. In the meantime, the best thing you can do is continue to stay apprised of trends in funding and get involved in the process. Time will show that those who are active players in the process will indeed have been the ones to win the grants—and the stakes may never have been higher. HST

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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