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Federal funds for homeland security drying up

Tuesday - 9/11/2012, 12:29pm  ET

RICHMOND, Va. - The flow of federal money into Virginia for state and local homeland security initiatives continues to dry up 11 years after the terrorist attacks that prompted the surge in such spending.

The state is receiving $13.1 million in homeland security and emergency planning grants this year. That's about $16 million less than a year ago and $37.3 million less than in 2008 before the economy soured, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports (bit.ly/RHEdFw).

Funding for regional homeland security initiatives in the Richmond and Hampton Roads regions is gone. So are federal grants for emergency medical response in metropolitan areas.

While some officials worry the decreased funding points to complacency, others say it instead shows that efforts are evolving into filling in the gaps and sustaining the programs and equipment already purchased.

"When you build a house, sooner or later you're going to finish and go into maintenance mode," said George W. Foresman, former assistant to the governor for commonwealth preparedness and undersecretary of preparedness under President George W. Bush. "The spigot is not getting turned off; it's just getting cut back."

Meanwhile, state and local governments have had to plan for sustaining the investments they made with the funds.

John Jones, executive director of the Virginia Sheriffs' Association, said he is worried about the morale among deputies on the front line because of reduced state spending on pay and other benefits.

"Our take on it is it's moved out of the limelight," Jones said.

The Richmond area is using the last of the money it received two years ago through the Urban Area Security Initiative, which helped localities with emergency management planning and operations. Central Virginia, with 20 localities, is no longer eligible for grants under the program.

Neither is Hampton Roads, despite its major military presence, ports, shipyards and its reliance on bridges and tunnels.

"There are so many ways the bad guys could do damage," said Dwight L. Farmer, executive director of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission.

State and regional officials have protested the Department of Homeland Security's decision to drop Hampton Roads. The region had to fight to get into the program in 2007, overcoming the perception that the military would handle disaster response there. Officials argued the first response comes from local police, firefighters and emergency workers, much like Arlington County proved during the attack on the Pentagon in 2001.

Foresman said much of the money has been used to build up preparedness for natural and man-made disasters, but he worries too much focus was placed on what was bought rather than how to use it.

"They were not investments in long-term capabilities," he said. "They were investments in stuff."

While state officials caution that more cuts are likely as the federal government addresses its budget deficit, some local officials question whether the nation's commitment to homeland security and preparedness is dwindling.

"I think it is evolving slowly and surely in that direction," Farmer said. "It's not in the front of our minds.

"We've been pretty successful in taking it to them instead of having them take it to us, like they did 11 years ago," he said. "We've probably gotten a little bit complacent."

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Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch, http://www.timesdispatch.com


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)