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Wyoming Homeland Security Series – Part 2: 9/11 Signals New Age of Federal Spending in Wyoming

By JP Eichmiller

January 16, 2012

Note: the following story is the second part of the Wyoming Homeland Security series. To read part 1, click here.

The advent of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security nearly one decade ago created a seismic shift in the reliance of state and local governments on federal funding.

A state’s emergency response and preparedness capabilities can now fairly be added to the list with health care, highways and agriculture programs as dependent on federal appropriations in order to operate. Since the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002, nearly $35 billion in federal funds have been doled out in the form of state and local government emergency preparedness grants.

Wyoming’s piece of the pie during that period topped $111 million – or $197.52 per resident – roughly equivalent to the price of arming every man, woman and child in the state with a fair-market priced Winchester .44 Magnum.

State and local emergency management officials largely rave about the upgrades in equipment and capabilities the new funding has provided. “It has been a great help,” said Lt. Stewart Anderson, Emergency Management Coordinator for Natrona County, regarding the federal grants. “At first it was just, ‘here spend this money on homeland security.’ [But] eventually as a group we had to decide what would be priorities one, two and three.”

Questions linger, however, as to the methods of dispersal as well as states’ increased reliance on Washington D.C. to accommodate what was widely viewed as local responsibilities and costs before 9/11. In February 2011, The Heritage Foundation, a prominent conservative think-tank based in Washington D.C., published a paper warning against the dangers of the Homeland Security Grants becoming “another federal entitlement program.”

“Since 9/11, funds directed to state and local governments through the DHS grant programs have done little to contribute to readiness and instead have served as another avenue for pork-barrel spending in Congress,” wrote Heritage analysts Jena McNeill and Matt Mayer. “One should ask: How much is enough, and how much more money must go out before states and localities are either prepared or able to bear their own costs?”

Even among the massive agencies and departments that compose the federal government, the DHS stands out as a leviathan of bureaucracies. Congress and President George Bush offered overwhelming support for the creation of the DHS with the 2002 Homeland Security Act. The bill authorized the merger of 22 separate federal agencies under the DHS banner, created a new Presidential cabinet secretary position and signaled a new era in federal spending. The result was the largest restructuring of federal agencies since the creation of the Department of Defense, 55 years earlier.

According to DHS figures, the agency currently boasts over 230,000 employees, occupies 70 Washington D.C. office buildings and for 2012, requested $57 billion in new funding. Agencies under the DHS umbrella include U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Secret Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Coast Guard.

The costs associated with DHS projects appear startling in an age where local and state governments increasingly find themselves in budgetary straitjackets. In 2012 alone, DHS has requested:

– $273 million for the upgrade and installation of “state-of-the-art” explosive technology systems in airports throughout the country.

– $105.2 million for the purchase of 275 new Advanced Imaging Technology Checkpoints in airports along with 535 additional employees to man the stations.

– $236.9 million to employ 3,336 Behavior Detection Officers for the purpose of; “an additional layer of security in airports by providing a non-intrusive means of identifying individuals who may pose a risk of terrorism or criminal activity.”

– $125.7 million to fund 900 canine teams.

– $242 million to upgrade surveillance technology and equipment along the Arizona-Mexico border.

– $157 million to fund 33,400 detention beds for illegal aliens during the deportation process.

– $233.6 million for software upgrades designed to prevent cyber-attacks and intrusion of federal computer systems.

– $39 million to fund the U.S. Coast Guard’s Polar Ice Breaking Program.

– $3.8 billion in state and local grants, “highlighting the Department’s commitment to moving resources out of Washington, D.C. and into the hands of state and local first responders,” according to a DHS release.

The final item on the above list represents the bulk of federal funds trickling down into state and local coffers. The primary vehicle for the distribution of this money is the Homeland Security Grant Program. The DHS allocates the grants according to a complex and often controversial logarithm that purports to rationalize a state’s homeland security funding needs. The methodology is based on a formula that combines a baseline appropriation with other factors, such as population and the valuation of high-risk target areas.

Accurately determining risk, however, and placing a corresponding dollar amount to mitigate threats is an inexact science. Critics of the DOH’s funding methods for states, in fact, have pointed to Wyoming as the poster child of the system’s flaws. Because the funding rules provide every state a guaranteed minimum amount of funding, Wyoming’s residents receive more per capita in Homeland Security Grants than any other state.

As a 2004 Congressional report on State Homeland Security Grants noted:

“One could argue that an example of this reported inequitable distribution is Wyoming’s 2004 State Homeland Security Grant allocation of $14.36 million. Based on Wyoming’s 2002 estimated census population, the state is allocated $28.72 per capita, whereas New York (arguably a more likely target for terrorist attacks) received a [State Homeland Security Grant Program] allocation of $78.83 million in 2004. Based on the 2002 estimated census population, New York is allocated $4.11 per capita.”

The grant allocation methodology has undergone periodic revisions since the Congressional report highlighted the disparity in per capita funding. The current funding structure provides states a lower mandatory minimum and places a higher emphasis on states’ population densities, economic impact, proximity to borders and coastlines and the presence of military facilities.

As a result of the changes in DHS grant formulas, along with a decline in the overall funding being provided to state and local governments, Wyoming’s share of annual Homeland Security Grants has steadily declined. According to Wyoming figures, the state received its largest Homeland Security Grant appropriations, totaling $18,809,000, in (Fiscal Year) 2005. Compared to then, 2011’s grant haul brought was a relatively modest $5,222,524.

The Homeland Security Grants are free money to the state in the sense there is no matching requirement, unlike Medicaid, which forces Wyoming to match federal contributions dollar-for-dollar.

Wyoming’s first responder agencies receive additional federal funding through matching grants. These supplemental grants added another $22 million in federal funds for more homeland security and emergency management spending. Combined with the matching contributions from Wyoming’s general fund, the total homeland security investment over the past decade reaches $118,471,578.

2002 marked the dawning of a new age of cash infusion into Wyoming’s first responder agencies. With it came the realization that the state had no agency in place to manage the distribution of cash into the hands of the local agencies.

So in 2003, the state’s Legislature passed the Wyoming Emergency Management Act. The bill authorized the creation of the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security (WOHS) as a sub-agency within the Office of the Governor. The new agency took over many of the responsibilities previously managed by the Wyoming Emergency Management Agency which was previously part of the Wyoming Military Department.

“Shortly after 9/11 this country engaged [in a war on terrorism],” said Guy Cameron, the Director of the WOHS. “As a result this country responded to local threats. Ten years later that threat still exists for this country.”

Cameron previously served as Chief of the Cheyenne Fire Department before taking on the role of Director of WOHS in March of 2011. According to Cameron, the primary function of WOHS is to support the 23 county and two tribal first response agencies spread throughout Wyoming and to monitor and distribute funding according to need.

Local agencies comprise the vast majority of first responder personnel in Wyoming and accordingly receive a greater share of the federal funding. Eighty percent of all State Homeland Security Grant funds received by Wyoming are distributed locally. As of 2011, at least $80 million has been passed on to Wyoming’s county and tribal first response agencies. The remaining 20 percent of grant funds is managed by the WOHS to support the equipment and operations of its 23 employees based in Cheyenne.

Larry Majerus,Deputy Director of the WOHS, has been with the agency since its inception. Prior to joining WOHS, Majerus served as the Chief of Police in Douglas, Wyoming. “Since 2001, the actual mission has changed,” said Majerus. “We have gone past the terrorism approach and now we’re in an all-hazards approach.

“What has happened with this agency is the funding allowed preparedness to build exponentially. This agency was, is and always will be a support agency to the first responders on the ground.”

The fiscal reality of the nation, however, means that as 9/11 sinks further into the population’s memory, funding for local homeland security programs is likely to continue decreasing as attention shifts to a sputtering economy. Cameron and Majerus say they recognize that the federal funding levels of just seven years ago are not likely to return soon. Financial belt tightening is becoming necessary at all levels.

“Federal funding is uncertain,” Cameron said. “I think what you are seeing is fiscal responsibility on the federal and national level.”

The next challenge for WOHS appears to be figuring out how to operate sans an outpouring of federal funds. In the future, Wyoming’s lawmakers will be forced into hard decisions about how much cost homeland security is worth in Wyoming.

Up next; Part 3: First Responders – Local Agencies Face Unique Challenges Across Wyoming

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