The nation’s sputtering economy is presenting a unique “win-win” situation for the federal government and regional homeland security leaders as new funding from the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) begins to make its way from Washington, D.C., to the state and local levels.
Better known as the 2009 economic stimulus bill, ARRA includes major new funding for a variety of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) programs, from border protection to airport security, U.S. Coast Guard operations, and support for local first responders. “Recovery Act projects are utilizing the latest science and technology to secure our country while creating jobs locally,” said Janet Napolitano, U.S. secretary of homeland security.
The new dollars will touch virtually all major DHS offices and operations, with a long-term goal of making the nation more secure. Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed the measure in February 2009, with a goal to distribute nearly all funds by September 2010.
For homeland security, the measure includes $3 billion across many areas. The largest DHS allotment is $1 billion for airport security, administered by the department’s Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). ARRA money will also support U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Transportation Safety: A $1 Billion Ticket
With its share of stimulus funds, TSA is planning a nationwide effort to use technology for more efficient operations. Under the bill, $700 million must go toward baggage-screening technology. Already, the agency has awarded some of this money, with a focus on in-line baggage handling systems – the latest technology to screen baggage quickly for explosives.
According to DHS, one advantage of these systems is that they eliminate the need for passengers to walk checked baggage to a screening location and wait for the baggage to clear security. With the new systems, TSA officers have on-screen viewing capabilities to screen baggage. As a result, there is less need for re-scans and physical bag searches.
“These new in-line explosives detection systems will strengthen airport security and streamline the baggage screening process,” Napolitano said. Already, the department has awarded in-line baggage screening grants of $24 million for Honolulu International Airport, $11 million for Sacramento International Airport, and $7 million for Kahului Airport in Hawaii.
The remaining $300 million will go toward checkpoint explosives-detection technology at airports and other high-risk transportation hubs. One of the most popular systems in this area is Advanced Technology Checkpoint X-ray, or AT X-ray, a term that covers a wide range of new products that provide multiple views of carry-on baggage.
AT systems use multiple X-ray angles or views and include high-definition zoom and automated detection capabilities. The components represent a major upgrade from current systems, most of which rely on a single, top-down X-ray view, the department noted.
“These resources are enhancing our nation’s explosives detection capabilities in airports throughout the country by significantly accelerating the deployment of more effective and efficient technologies,” said Gale Rossides, acting administrator of TSA.
Using Recovery Act dollars, the agency has purchased 123 reduced-size explosive-detection systems from Reveal Imaging Technologies under an existing contract. The agency also will purchase 44 AT X-ray units from Rapiscan Systems for approximately $3 million under another existing contract.
Passengers also soon may see other new technologies that make their travels easier. Through this line item in the Recovery Act, DHS expects quicker adoption of other technologies such as bottled liquid scanners – detection systems that can differentiate liquid explosives from common liquids. This new equipment will aim sensors at a bottle opening, allowing it to analyze the intake of certain vapors. Other new technologies scheduled for greater use via Recovery Act dollars include:
• Whole Body Imagers –These imagers allow the inspection of a passenger’s body for concealed weapons, explosives, and prohibited items. DHS says this technology will help safety officers identify possible problems without a lengthy search via a pat-down or hand wanding.
• Explosive Trace Detectors – Safety officers can use these detectors to examine articles and items for the residue of explosives. It also will allow for the identification of a larger range of explosives than found in current practice.
• Universal Conveyor Systems – These systems automatically divert problem baggage from the cleared baggage stream, allowing a speedier flow of passengers through critical checkpoints.
In another move to improve threat detection, the department is using nearly $8 million in Recovery Act funds to install new closed circuit television systems at airports in Cincinnati, Ohio, Washington, D.C., Spokane, Wash., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Boise, Idaho.
Taken together, these TSA investments present an unprecedented opportunity to promote security while meeting goals of the economic stimulus. “These ARRA funds will not only improve security, but also will create jobs and strengthen our economy,” Rossides said.
Emergency Preparedness: A Major Focus
Another big winner in the Recovery Act is FEMA, the agency within DHS that coordinates U.S. response to national emergencies. The new bill has eight separate allocations of money for FEMA programs. One of the largest amounts, $150 million, is for transit and rail security grants through which localities can hire transit law enforcement officers and make security improvements to high-density tunnels, stations, and bridges.
Transit hubs also can use these funds for mobile explosive-detection screening teams, anti-terrorism teams, and other security enhancements. But there’s a catch in that last category: Projects must be “shovel-ready,” meaning the grantee must be able to complete the security enhancement within 90 days.
Some of these dollars already are having an impact. In July 2009, the department awarded $78 million in Recovery Act grants for new transit security officers and equipment. Fifteen transit systems across the country received funding for 240 new officers. “Securing our mass transit systems requires well-trained personnel on the ground to protect against those who seek to cause harm,” Napolitano said in releasing the funds. Recipients included:
• New York City: $35 million, for improvements that include the hiring of 125 new officers;
• Washington, D.C.: $9.6 million;
• Chicago: $6.6 million for subway and commuter rail security;
• Houston: $3 million;
• Buffalo: $2.2 million; and
• Cleveland: $1.4 million.
In addition to hiring officers, these funds will support development of anti-terrorism teams, explosive detection canine teams, and mobile explosives detection screening teams.
Elsewhere for FEMA, the Recovery Act has $210 million for Assistance to Firefighter Grants, a comprehensive initiative that may help communities in different ways. Funds can support firehouse construction, with a maximum grant of $15 million. Projects also can build or modify existing fire stations – including aged or unsafe structures – in ways that improve response capabilities.
The chief goal of this initiative is to help shore up local budgets and “keep fire houses open,” Napolitano said. “In other words, not to let the firefighter infrastructure that we have be constricted in such a fashion that some communities are having to contemplate.”
Another $150 million is available for port security grants for anti-terrorism programs and protection against explosive devices and other non-conventional weapons. It also will support implementation of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential.
To meet the daily needs of many individuals and families in this recession, the law earmarks $100 million for FEMA emergency food and shelter programs. Using measures of unemployment and poverty, the agency will allocate funds to cities and counties nationwide. The program also awards additional funds to areas of high need and those with sudden spikes in unemployment, poverty, and homelessness.
“These ARRA funds will provide immediate relief to communities impacted by unemployment and poverty,” Napolitano said. “The community organizations receiving this money not only support Americans in need, but also play a crucial role in helping to get our economy back on track and families back on their feet.”
Border Protection Programs
Customs and border protection is another homeland security priority in ARRA. These funds will run through U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the nation’s largest law enforcement unit, with more than 20,000 uniformed officers at major air, land, and sea access points. In recognition of the agency’s importance, the stimulus bill provides $680 million, including:
• $420 million for construction of land ports of entry;
• $100 million for non-intrusive inspection technology;
• $100 million for border technology in the U.S. Southwest; and
• $60 million for tactical communications.
“These funds will support planning, management, design, alteration, and construction of CBP-owned land ports of entry,” said Jayson Ahern, the agency’s acting commissioner. In summer 2009, Ahern told a House of Representatives panel that this funding will provide “greatly needed improvements to our aging infrastructure, and for the addition of new technology at our nation’s borders.” In addition to the funding for CBP, the Recovery Act also includes $300 million for construction and repair of land ports of entry managed by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).
Many CBP projects will target areas of the Southwest near the U.S./Mexico border. The agency said $269 million will go toward port and infrastructure projects at Otay Mesa in San Diego, Calif., Antelope Wells, N.M., Los Ebanos and Corpus Christi, Texas, and Nogales, Ariz. Technology is another major theme, as $50 million will accelerate the deployment of surveillance technology and command and control operations in Arizona. El Paso and other areas of Texas will receive $50 million for tactical communication modernization.
“The critical new technology and resources that DHS is sending to the Southwest border and across the country will contribute both to DHS’ security mission and the president’s effort to restore our nation’s economic health,” Napolitano said in awarding the funds. Another $42 million will purchase non-intrusive inspection equipment at border points of entry. DHS says the technology will include both small and large systems, with the latter able to scan tractor trailers.
Another DHS agency, the U.S. Coast Guard, will receive $240 million under the stimulus legislation. Bridge improvement is a major theme, as $142 million is earmarked for Mobile Bridge in Hurricane, Ala.; the EJ&E Bridge in Devine, Ill.; Burlington Bridge in Burlington, Iowa; and the Galveston Causeway Railroad Bridge, in Galveston, Texas.
Coast Guard shore infrastructure projects will receive $88 million. The funds will support shore infrastructure projects, including personnel housing, boat moorings, and other improvements, in Alaska, Delaware, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington. Many of the Coast Guard’s 40-year-old cutters will receive improvements as well. Ships based in Alaska, California, Hawaii, South Carolina, and Washington will benefit from $10 million in upgrades to replace worn or obsolete components.
Elsewhere, the law will provide this additional funding:
• ICE will receive $20 million for automation modernization and tactical communications; and
• The Department of Homeland Security will receive $200 million to support continued consolidation of agency headquarters.
• The DHS inspector general will receive $5 million to conduct oversight and audits of Recovery Act spending (for more information on accountability provisions of the law, see sidebar “Lawmakers Seek Accountability on ARRA Funds”).
When combined, these investments provide a significant opportunity to promote safety and security. Added Napolitano, “These funds will strengthen our economy while improving our ability to prepare for terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies.”
This article was originally published in The Year in Homeland Security: 2009 Edition.