WASHINGTON -- Working to further define its mission, the Homeland Security Department is seeking a major shift in competitive bidding for federal grants, directing money to cities that face a wide range of threats -- not just those from terrorists.
The change, outlined in departmental documents sent to state and local officials, addresses both the destruction and lack of preparedness seen during Hurricane Katrina. It also reflects Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's efforts to give his department an all-hazards mission -- even though it was created as a direct result of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Chertoff will announce today which cities will receive part of $765 million in annual Urban Area Security Initiative grants. The program usually pits highly populated areas against rural regions.
In past years, the grants generally have gone to the nation's 50 largest cities for terror-related security measures. This year, however, cities that risk being hit by a natural disaster or a health crisis would also be eligible, according to the documents.
"In light of several major new national planning priorities, which address such issues as pandemic influenza and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the allowable scope of [grant] activities [include] catastrophic events -- provided that these activities also build capabilities that relate to terrorism," according to a 203-page Homeland Security plan for state and local officials.
Still, the money would have to be used for programs and items that could also help during a terror attack, the plan noted.
Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke would not comment on which cities will be eligible for grants this year.
Capitol Hill aides who oversee Homeland Security said they received very vague briefings by department officials on the changes, but weren't told which cities would be eligible.
Calls to city officials around the country and to the U.S. Conference of Mayors for comment were not immediately returned.
A senior Homeland Security official, speaking only on condition of anonymity because the plan isn't public yet, said the new formula uses highly detailed data -- down to an area's ZIP code -- to determine the most vulnerable communities.
It also looks at daily and event-driven commuter populations within cities, and for the first time ranks local infrastructure by risk -- drawing distinctions, for example, between a nuclear power plant and a subway system, the official said.
In another shift, the cities will not know how much money they will receive when their eligibility is announced. Their grants will be determined later based on applications detailing how they will spend the money, officials said.
The cities are vying for a smaller pot this year than in 2005, when Homeland Security distributed $829 million in urban area grants. The largest share was $207 million for New York; the smallest was $5 million to Louisville, Ky.
Homeland Security Department: http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/