Legislation would limit UASI anti-terrorism grants

HR 1555 and amendment to HR 1 seek to cut areas from funding pool, clarify risk formula

April 15, 2011 -- A new bill introduced in the House of Representatives would limit the number of urban areas that could receive DHS Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) funding. The bill, HR 1555, was entered by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), and while the full text of the bill is not yet available from the Library of Congress, the early indications from the title of the bill is that the bill would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 by limiting the number of UASI grants and by clarifying the risk formula used to determine which areas receive such grants.

UASI funds are typically used for terrorism prevention and terrorism major emergency response project investments. The money is often spent on things like bomb robots, Fusion centers, emergency response equipment and urban security technologies like surveillance cameras, bollards and more.

According to Steve Davis, a homeland security and risk management consultant from the All Hands Consulting Network and DavisLogic, the bill seems to echo a last-minute provision addition to HR 1 that sought to do much of the same work. That provision was passed on Feb. 18, but HR 1, the house appropriations bill, has failed to meet the requisite number of Senate approval votes and seems to be defunct, having been replaced by HR 1473. HR 1473 does not include the former UASI provision. The provision entered into HR 1 would essentially helps focus more of the UASI moneys on New York City metro area -- which is included in Rep. Lowey’s district.

The reason for the new bill HR 1555, which likely patterns the provision added to HR 1, is that the number of urban areas receiving UASI grants has grown significantly over the years to 64 locations, while the pool of money hasn’t patterned that growth; in fact Davis said the funding pool "has been drastically reduced." Simultaneously, there is a proposal that has passed both houses of Congress to cut UASI grant funding significantly. A shrinking pool of funds without a cut in the number of funding locations would undoubtedly impact top metro areas like New York City, which might suffer disproportionately.

The bill’s proposal to clarify the risk assessment formula is also key to the new bill, said Davis.

"The DHS changed the risk formula this year to add consequence [as a factor to the funding formula], shifting funds to the more vulnerable areas," he added. The proposed bill indicates it will 'clarify the risk assessment formula to be used when making such grants," but it's impossible to know what that might mean until the full text of the proposed legislation is made available next week.

"Another dynamic is that they changed the risk calculation formula, and implied in the title is that they also want to amend the formula or constrain the formula in some way. DHS already changed the formula to make consequences a 30 percent factor, and my theory is that would skew the money toward the larger locations."

What’s happening, said Davis, is that the nation is likely to see a shrinking number of UASI grant locations.

"I think they’re probably going to drop back close to 50, but this amendment [in HR 1] will likely cut it to 25 if passed.”

Davis posted information about which cities are likely to remain in the funding allocations and which are likely to be cut off the funding list on his blog in February (see list). Cities, he said, that could lose UASI funding include towns like Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Sacramento, Nashville and others.