Nevada could lose millions with changes in Homeland Security funding | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada could lose millions with changes in Homeland Security funding

Sweeping changes in how Homeland Security grants are awarded could leave Nevada with as little as $4 million in grants next year – less than one-sixth what the state received this fiscal year.

In the past three years, Nevada has received $24.6 million, $36.8 million and $26 million. Total grants since 1999 come to $93.2 million.

Nevada Emergency Management Director Frank Siracusa said Friday the loss of funding comes with a decision by the federal Department of Homeland Security to cut Las Vegas from the list of high-profile terrorist targets.

He said the move is necessary, not only to protect Nevada but many other states as well. Yet the new rules are greatly complicating the job of getting the money to the right places.

He said federal officials have been very little help in explaining how to get grant money because they too are having trouble interpreting the new rules. As a result, he said, different officials at homeland security often give contradictory recommendations or simply refuse to answer his questions.

“When they removed Clark County from the list of (at-risk) cities they said it was based on criteria. But they refused to give us the rationale for why they removed it. They said ‘that’s classified and we’re not going to tell you,'” Siracusa related.

Many Southern Nevada officials have argued for several years Las Vegas needs more Homeland Security money because the Las Vegas Strip is such an inviting target.

Because of the Strip, Clark County has been on the list of 50 high-risk cities since the list was created. Siracusa said Las Vegas has the nation’s third busiest airport, hosts more than 35 million tourists a year and is the kind of flashy target that could very easily appeal to terror groups.

It was removed this year and at least one Southern Nevada official has suggested it is the Bush Administration’s way of retaliating against Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Siracusa blamed disorganization within the federal Department of Homeland Security.

“DHS is the most dysfunctional organization I have worked with in 30 years.”

For the past five fiscal years, Siracusa said Nevada has been informed by federal officials how much money it could apply for. Then his office and local emergency management officials worked out what programs and purchases they need, wrote justifications for them and submitted grant applications.

Under the new system, he said, the state is only guaranteed $4 million or less a year and isn’t told how much it could get.

“Everything else is competitive,” he said.

First, he said, the state must develop a “capability review” spelling out the status quo in different areas, then create “an enhancement plan that defines weak points, strong points, risk and vulnerabilities.”

Then, they must put together a package of “investment justifications” – projects which fit those needs and submit them as a single state application.

He said local governments can no longer submit their own projects – everything must be bundled in the state application.

When the federal government makes its decisions, he said, they won’t approve specific projects from the state application. Instead, they will simply approve a dollar amount and let the state work out which projects to spend it on.

“It leaves us completely up in the air.”

Siracusa said Nevada is far from alone, that every state is having the same problems.

But, he said, he and more than 50 other emergency management, law enforcement and other officials in Nevada will get the job done because, if they don’t the state will get nothing.

“Our frustrations are that we get very little guidance and what we get is fragmented and inconsistent,” he said. “It’s a huge amount of work to do it this way, much more complicated than necessary.

“But we’re united as a team. Everybody has the best interests of the state as a whole and we’ll do a good job. We have to.”

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.