GAO Report Evaluating the Port Security Grant Program
Recently, I reviewed a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluating the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) Port Security Grant Program (PSGP), which provides funding to protect critical maritime infrastructure and the public from terrorist attacks. The PSGP is administered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA -a DHS component agency), and is part of $2.1 billion in federal grants available in FY 2011 to help areas that face the greatest terrorist risk, which we covered previously.
The GAO report evaluated the extent to which DHS:
- Allocated PSGP funds in accordance with risk;
- Encountered administration challenges and what actions DHS has taken to overcome those challenges; and
- Evaluated the effectiveness of the PSGP.
DHS uses a risk analysis model that includes all three elements of risk – threat, vulnerability, and consequence – to allocate SPGP funds. However, the report found that the vulnerability equation does not account for changes in port security, including changes implemented through PSGP-funded security projects.
The report detailed FEMA’s challenges in distributing PSGP grant funds. In many cases, funding remains unavailable because certain federal requirements like an environmental review have not been met, and therefore grantees cannot begin using funds. In other cases, the port area has yet to identify projects to fund with the grant money. Additionally, the GAO found that DHS was slow to review grantees’ cost-share waiver requests. Without a quicker waiver review process, potential applicants that cannot afford the cost-share requirement may opt not to apply. To address these challenges, DHS and FEMA have increased staffing levels, introduced project submission time frames, implemented new procedures for environmental reviews, and implemented the first phase of a new grants management system.
While FEMA is developing performance measures to assess its administration of the PSGP, the GAO found that it has not yet implemented measures to assess effectiveness nor does it have a plan to do so. Without a plan to measure grant effectiveness, the GAO believes it may be difficult for FEMA to assess whether the PSGP is achieving its purpose of strengthening critical maritime infrastructure against the risk of terrorist attack.
The report includes three key recommendations for DHS:
- Strengthen its risk methodology for measuring vulnerability in ports by accounting for how past security enhancements reduce vulnerability;
- Evaluate and expedite the cost-share waiver review process; and
- Develop a plan with milestones for implementing performance measures to assess the effectiveness of the PSGP.
The appropriate and efficient distribution of PSGP funds is vital to ensuring the security of our nation’s ports, waterways, and vessels. It is therefore very important that DHS and FEMA take action regarding the GAO’s recommendations for improving the PSGP. For more information, take a look at our whitepaper on MTSA Security Tips and Updates that we posted this week.
Ryan Loughin is Director of Petrochemical & Energy Solutions for the Advanced Integration division of ADT- www.adtbusiness.com/petrochem. He provides security education to CFATS and MTSA-affected companies and is a member of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (NPRA), Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Associates (SOCMA), Energy Security Council (ESC) and American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS). Loughin has also completed multiple levels of CVI Authorized User training (Chemical-Terrorism Vulnerability Information) which was authored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
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