NEWS

State and Local Fusion Centers Plead for More Federal Funds

By Matthew Harwood

State officials told Congress yesterday that state fusion centers need more federal funding to sustain their operations.

"Without a consistent funding stream some centers may never attain the core capacities," Captain Charles W. Rapp of Maryland's Coordination and Analysis Center testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

After 9-11, state and local fusion centers were formed to collect, analyze, and produce intelligence products relating to criminal and terrorist activity that could be shared across all levels of government.

Last year, the White House released the National Strategy for Information Sharing, which stated the federal government would help establish and sustain state and local fusion centers because they acted as a "valuable information sharing resource" worthy of integration into the national information sharing network.

Despite acknowledging how critical fusion centers are to intelligence information sharing, the federal government does not do enough to ensure their sustainability say fusion center officials.

According to Eileen R. Larence, director of homeland security and justice issues for the Government Accountability Office, fusion centers had a hard time finding and retaining staff and maintaining operations, much of it due to a lack of federal resources and guidance.

Forty-three fusion center officials out of 58 told the GAO that they had staffing problems. Thirty-seven centers said federal, state, or local agencies could not send them qualified personnel because of a lack of resources. Twenty more centers complained they had trouble attracting, hiring, and retaining good staff because candidates lacked the necessary expertise for developing the center.

Fusion center officials also complained about DHS' funding limits on personnel. According to homeland security grant program rules, DHS will pay the costs of hiring new intelligence analysts for two years. Afterwards, it's up to the states and urban areas to provide the funding to sustain those positions. Many fusion center officials told the GAO that only two years of federal funding could hurt their ability to maintain staffing levels.

The GAO also reported that a complex and confusing grant process hurts fusion centers' ability to receive money for staff and operations as well.

"Specifically, officials in 35 of the 58 centers encountered challenges with the complexity of the federal grant process, uncertainty as to whether they would receive federal funds, or declining federal funding," said Larence.

Matthew Bettenhausen, director of California's Office of Homeland Security, also expressed frustration with Department of Homeland Security grant rules.

"[I]nconsistent guidance regarding the use of federal funds under the State Homeland Security and Urban Area Security Grant programs," he testified, "has been extremely counterproductive and detrimental to State and local efforts to build and sustain a network of fusion centers."

Rapp called on Congress to allocate some of the homeland security grant funding specifically to fusion centers to sustain their operations into the future.

Fusion center officials, Larence said, want clarity regarding whether fusion centers will continue to receive funding from the DHS homeland security grant program or whether a separate fund specifically for fusion centers will be created. The government has yet to make a decision between the two options.

In response to funding concerns, Vance E. Hitch, chief information officer at the Department of Justice (DOJ), told Congress that DHS and DOJ "have broadened the allowable expenses under these programs to address concerns raised by state and local officials."

 

 

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