IG challenges effectiveness of DHS port security grants

Although the Homeland Security Department has awarded more than $560 million for 1,200 projects to increase seaport security nationwide, the current grants process "compromises the program's ability to direct resources toward the nation's highest priorities," according to a new inspector general audit.

Of $515 million in grants awarded between June 2002 and December 2003, only $106.9 million , or 21 percent, of the funds had been spent. Awarded to state, local and private-sector organizations, many of the grants include funding for IT-related projects.

"The program has not yet achieved its intended results in the form of actual improvements to port security," said the report signed by acting IG Richard Skinner.

DHS released the Review of the Port Security Grant Programreportyesterday.

The IG identified three major problems with the port security grant program:

  • It spreads funds to as many recipients as possible.


  • In each grants round, DHS has changed its definition of what qualifies as a "national critical seaport."


  • The department funded projects that lack clear security-related merit.


For instance, the Office for Domestic Preparedness Urban Area Security Initiative grant program funded 82 projects that the Coast Guard, Maritime Administration National Review Board and Transportation Security Administration had previously and jointly determined did not merit grants.

The IG review noted that the program's conflicting goals spawned many of the problems. The grants program "should be more risk based, but we found statutory direction and actual implementation that effects a distributive approach to the grants."

There is also the ongoing question of "where the private sector's responsibility for preventing terrorism ends and where the federal government's responsibility begins," the IG said. This affects whether private entities can apply for grants.

Despite these problems, Skinner said grant requests to TSA have far exceeded available funds, and there is "widespread support and enthusiasm for the port security grants."

The report details 12 recommendations to strengthen the program, and DHS generally agreed to do as the IG suggested. The audit said the IG would monitor the department's remedial actions.

DHS has $150 million available for grants this year. But the IG cautioned, "We strongly encourage ? DHS to fully implement our recommendations before proceeding with the next round of port security grants."


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