Stateline Story

States Lean on Feds For Security Funds

State officials have been talking up the importance of homeland security, but few of them have been putting up much state money for the protection of their citizens.

Instead, most states have been relying heavily on the federal government to subsidize or even completely fund their security efforts.

Take Colorado. "Everything we are doing so far, with very few exceptions, is tied to federal funding," said Allan Turner, interim director of Colorado's Office of Preparedness and Security.

Even Turner's office itself is funded mainly with federal dollars. One office position draws money from the federal government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and another draws funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A major reason is Colorado's budget deficit, which has left little money for new initiatives, including new homeland security programs.

Colorado is not alone. Nearly every state has seen revenues fall over the past year and many have cut programs as a result. Few have the resources to undertake new measures, even with security at stake. All are looking to the federal government for help.

And the feds have responded generously.

All told, the federal government is offering states more than $5 billion this year and the next for security initiatives, according to Federal Funds Information for the States, an organization in Washington, D.C., that tracks federal dollars flowing to the states.

"It's huge. There's no comparison," said Chris Fox of FFIS, when asked to compare federal anti-terror money flowing to the states before and after 9/11.

But the suddenness and sheer size of this increase has some budget hawks worried that the funds may be misused.

"The whole homeland security category is a brand new one for the federal budget. It's ill-defined, so that opens up the opportunity for anyone to define something as homeland security and get it funded," said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan budget-watchdog organization in Washington, D.C.

"If I were a state official and I was looking at a tight budget. . .what might I do if I wanted to get some extra money, to see if I could get it under the rubric of homeland security? Transportation, fire and police, hospitals. There are a lot of things one could define as homeland security," he said.

The wonky word for such redefining of existing activities is "supplanting," and it's something the feds are trying to guard against.

The U.S. Department of Justice anti-terror grant regulations include a certification states must fill out affirming "that federal funds will be used to supplement existing funds, and will not replace (supplant) funds that have been appropriated for the same purpose."

The $5 billion in federal money breaks down into two main areas: public health and emergency prevention and relief.

In public health, the federal government has made $1.042 billion available to states this year, most likely increasing the total to $1.6 billion next year, according to FFIS.

The money is geared toward stopping outbreaks of epidemics in case of biological or chemical attack by strengthening communication lines between hospitals and doctors and hiring more epidemiologists, specialists who track and prevent epidemics.

"Had it not been for the federal boost here, we wouldn't have gotten anywhere at all. If anything, we would have seen more erosion of our public health infrastructure. There is no way it could have been done without the visionaries and the pocketbooks that are at the federal level," said Tom Safranek, Nebraska's state epidemiologist.

The rest of the federal anti-terror funds for states are devoted to law enforcement and disaster relief and total $932 million this year and anywhere from $2.1 billion to $3.6 billion next year, according to FFIS.

Where all this money goes once it hits the states no one really knows.

"The money is spread across many agencies. Moving it from one to another and calling it homeland security money. There's no bright line about how to track it and where it's going," said Corina Eckl, fiscal analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures, a research organization based in Denver, Colorado.

This is partly due to the newness of the category and its general lack of clear definition.

But it's also a function of what one budget watcher called the "apples and oranges" problem. In other words, what one state calls anti-terror spending, another might call public health; what one state calls a new police station, another might call a strategic improvement to vital intelligence services.

This has some states thinking creatively about ways to use federal anti-terror funds to buttress state budgets.

"I think there is a lot of interest to use the federal dollars to beef up existing budgets that are already hurting, but I would say so far we have not been doing that," said Bob Demange, grants and planning administrator in Vermont's justice system.

Instead, the money has been going to new projects, said Demange. And for that reason, Demange thinks the federal government's role in state homeland security efforts is a vital one.

"If we had to use state funds to do what we're doing, it wouldn't be done as well," he said, noting Vermont's budget problems. "So much of what government does is a function of money. If you don't have the money you don't do it, or you don't do it well."

Despite the strong federal support, Iowa's homeland security coordinator, Ellen Gordon, says states need to start thinking seriously about their own funding commitment to domestic security.

"Now, my colleagues might disagree with me," said Gordon. "But to be very realistic, for us here, if we're going to continue to see this as something that's important at home, here in the states, counties and cities, we're going to have to figure out a way to fund it."