Senators unveil homeland security grant plan at odds with House

At issue is how much funding state and local governments should be guaranteed versus how much DHS can distribute based on risk assessments.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Tuesday they are ready to propose a formula for distributing billions of dollars in homeland security grants, but opposition to their plan is already growing in the House.

The new funding formula is included in a bill, scheduled to be marked up by the committee Wednesday, that would implement unfulfilled recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

"I do hope that the formula we are proposing tomorrow will be adopted," Collins said during a hearing Tuesday with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "One reason I believe it is necessary is because we need predictability in the funding so that states and communities can embark on multi-year projects to improve their homeland security."

The Senate and House have never agreed on how much funding state and local governments should be guaranteed versus how much the Homeland Security Department can distribute based on risk and threat assessments. Under current law, each state is guaranteed 0.75 percent of state homeland security grants and law enforcement terrorism prevention grants.

But several major differences remain between the Lieberman-Collins plan and a bill approved by the House last month. For example, the Lieberman-Collins plan would guarantee each state receive at least 0.45 percent of state homeland security grants. The House put that level at 0.25 percent.

The Lieberman-Collins plan would also require that 25 percent of state homeland security grants and urban area security grants be devoted to law enforcement terrorism prevention activities. The House bill leaves an existing law enforcement terrorism prevention grant program in place and reduces the amount that each state receives under it to 0.25 percent. Lieberman and Collins also would increase the amount of funding authorized under the emergency management performance grant program, from $200 million this year to $913 million. Their plan would require the department to give each state 0.75 percent of funding under the program.

Lieberman was optimistic that a conference agreement would be reached. "We plan to work with the House in conference to resolve [our differences] this year," he said.

But a House Democratic aide said Lieberman and Collins appear to be playing a shell game, in that they are decreasing how much states would be guaranteed under the state homeland security grant program while increasing how much states are guaranteed under the emergency management performance grant program.

"The House bill we feel meets the intent of the 9/11 Commission recommendations," the aide said. The 9/11 Commission recommended that all grants be distributed based on risk.

Lieberman described the proposal that he and Collins are offering as a compromise, as the Senate approved legislation in the past that would guarantee each state 0.55 percent of state homeland security grants. But it is not clear if House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and ranking member Peter King, R-N.Y., will compromise.

In testimony Tuesday, Chertoff pleaded for lawmakers to come to an agreement. "Help us out. Give us congressional guidance," he told Lieberman and Collins. Chertoff added that his department supports a formula that would guarantee states 0.25 percent of grants.