Northwestern Study Finds DHS May Misallocate Homeland Security Funds

By Matthew Harwood

Researchers from Northwestern University say they've developed a more advanced budget allocation model that shows New York City receives too little of the homeland security funding pie and wants the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to consider their methodology.

The research team led by Sanjay Mehrotra, a professor of industrial engineering and management sciences at Northwestern, examined how DHS doled out homeland security grants to the ten metropolitan areas most at risk of a terrorist attack under the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) from 2005 to 2009. The program was created to better prepare those cities most at risk from terrorism.

(For a run down how DHS supported state and local preparedness last year, see "DHS Announces $1.8 Billion in Grants to States, Cities.")

The methodology, says Mehrotra, is a step beyond risk management and allows different stakeholders with different priorities to weigh different risk factors. In the context of homeland security, this means DHS can run dynamic models that allow them to determine how best to allocate UASI funding based on whether protecting human life or critical infrastructure is more important. In the Northwestern methodology, decision makers have four risk indicators to play with: property losses, fatalities, air departures, and average daily bridge traffic.

The study's methodology results seem to show that DHS misallocates the UASI grant pie, giving both New York City and Chicago too little of the pie and the Los Angeles-Long Beach area too much.

In 2009, the team calculated that  New York City received about 30 percent of the UASI funding allocated to the top-ten cities most at risk of a terrorist attack, or about double what its next closest competitor got. The study, however, found that the funding should have been in between 33 to 49 percent of total funding in 2009, depending on how the risk factors were weighed. This would have translated into anywhere between $15 to $92 million more in UASI funding for New York City last year, if DHS followed Mehrotra's methodology.

The methodology also suggests that the Los Angeles-Long Beach area received a funding slice from 7 to 9 percent too large, depending on how the risks were weighed, while Chicago could have used a 2 to 4 percent bigger slice of the pie.

"Our new methodology, called robust-weighted sum optimization, offers a different perspective on how Homeland Security funds might be allocated," said Mehrotra. "Ultimately, we would like to bring this method to the decision-making processes of Homeland Security and other organizations."

The study's results could provide more ammunition for New York City politicians and opinion-makers that want the federal government to provide more homeland security funding to the Big Apple. Just days after a SUV-bomb failed to explode in Times Square, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg yesterday reminded the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Reform (.pdf) that New York City has been the target of terrorists 20 times since 1990.

"That's why it's so critical for Congress to fully fund homeland security programs like the 'Securing the Cities' initiative," he told lawmakers.

DHS does however provide more homeland security money to New York City than any metropolitan area under the UASI.

"While there have been some wild fluctuations in the past, on average, New York's share of UASI funds has been $135 million per year (14%), on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars from the other grant programs," reports Emergency Management Magazine. "No other jurisdiction in the U.S. comes close to this level of funding."

Based on the risk to both human life and critical infrastructure, according to Mehrotra's study, that still seems like it's not enough.

♦ Photo by DigiDi/Flickr


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