Chertoff stresses IEDs as DHS unveils grants

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff emphasized concerns about improvised explosive devices and not allowing DHS grant programs to evolve into block grants while announcing $1.8 billion in preparedness grants.

"In terms of funding priorities, we continued our focus on critical national preparedness capabilities, which of course are consistent with our National Preparedness Guidelines and the National Response Framework, which we released at the beginning of the year," Chertoff said. "A particular focus has been improved explosive device deterrence, prevention and protection."

According to Chertoff, "almost every single terrorist act in the West since September 11 ... has involved an IED."

"When we prioritize IEDs as a focus, we are prioritizing what is far and away the greatest threat in the West with respect to terrorist attacks," he said. "It does not mean that we're limiting this to the very kind of sophisticated improved explosive devices and roadside bombs you see in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a much broader category."

An IED, he said, is a "homemade bomb" that was "not manufactured as part of a military program or some institutionalized way of making bombs."

The roughly $1.8 billion in grants are meant to improve state, urban area and tribal government's readiness for, response to and recovery from natural and man-made events.

The majority -- $1.69 billion -- of the $1.8 billion was allotted as part of the Homeland Security Grant Program. Of that $1.69 billion, DHS awarded $861.3 million under its State Homeland Security Program and $781.6 million under the Urban Areas Security Initiative.

Through USAI, the country's seven most at risk urban areas will take in total of $429.9 million.

Although he couldn't give a time frame for when he expected the grant programs to end, Chertoff noted that they weren't meant to be permanent.

"That's one of the reasons we've tried hard to make sure that we fund projects that are capital investments or investments in training capabilities and not investments in simply regular operating expenses," Chertoff said. "I think one of the things we're going to look to are what are the quality of the applications coming in for. As we start to see applications coming in for things that look more like ordinary, necessary expenses and less like investment in real terrorism capabilities, we're going to know . . . we need to start to perhaps shift our priorities either to other communities or maybe other kinds of programs."

As communities meet the target capabilities, Chertoff said, they are going to have less to apply for. "One of the things I'm pretty focused on, and I hope my successor will be, is making sure that . . . the homeland security program doesn't begin to become so broadly defined that it is essentially a general revenue sharing or block grant program," he said.

Both members of Congress and emergency management officials stressed the importance of the grants.

"I feel confident that cities, states, and regions are continuing to learn how best to apply the grant money they get from DHS so that it has the greatest possible effect on the security of their communities," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the "grants will assist states and vulnerable cities better prepare and respond to acts of terror, natural disasters or other man-made emergencies."

Given the country's economic situation, Ken Murphy, director of Oregon's Department of Emergency Management and president of the National Emergency Management Association said, the grants were particularly welcomed this year.

"A lot of states are having budget troubles," Murphy said, pointing to energy prices and home foreclosures as key issues.

"So this type of money, with the support from the federal government, gives the states and the territories more of an opportunity to continue to make investments to better prepare their jurisdictions," he said.

Robert C. Bohlmann, chairman of the International Association of Emergency Manager's Government Affairs Committee and emergency manager in York County, Maine, said he was pleased that the grants funded activities directed toward man-made and natural emergencies.

"I've always maintained if you've got us ready to go and equipped very well for a natural disaster, it's very easy to transition into the homeland security arena, the terrorist arena," he said.

This story originally appeared in CQ Homeland Security.

Source: CQ Today Round-the-clock coverage of news from Capitol Hill. ©2008 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All Rights Reserved.