Homeland security faulted…again


The Homeland Security Department still spends money on U.S. port projects that aren’t considered national security priorities even though it has made some corrections, a new report says.

In a report to be made public Tuesday, Homeland Security Inspector General Richard L. Skinner praises the agency for overhauling the Port Security Grant Program in 2005 to award money based on risk and to make only the 66 most vulnerable ports eligible.

However, Skinner said, the agency still has not entirely fixed the problems that led the his office in January 2005 to issue a dozen recommendations for improving design, management and oversight of the program.

This time, Skinner said, "We identified 20 projects that reviewers determined did not meet national security priorities but were funded nonetheless."

His office studied the fifth and most recent round of port security grants, which awarded $142 million for 132 projects. Of those, the 20 projects Skinner’s report said scored low on the agency’s threat scale received about 20 percent of the money awarded, or $29.3 million.

The report did not say where those projects were located. In one example, a grant applicant proposed installing card readers on critical buildings and upgrading current software for controlling access to the facility. The project received no score as a national security priority threat but received funding anyway.

Marc Short, a Homeland Security spokesman, defended the grant program. "Despite the scoring, the results are absolutely in accord with our risk assessment," he said.

The new report comes amid increased attention in Congress on port security as Dubai-owned DP World seeks to takeover significant operations at six U.S. ports. Republicans and Democrats alike oppose the deal and have introduced legislation to block it.

Although dated February 2006, Skinner’s report is being made public Tuesday. The Associated Press obtained an advanced copy.

In October, Congress, at the behest of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., ordered a review of the steps the agency has taken to comply with recommendations in the January 2005 report.

"It’s been more than four years since 9/11, and the government still can’t get port security right," Kerry said in a statement.

Since its inception, the grant program has awarded more than $700 million to make U.S. ports less vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

Because of that investment, Skinner’s report said, the agency has "raised the overall bar of preparedness but it is not clear that DHS knows now much actual risk reduction has been achieved."


On the Net:

Homeland Security Department: http://www.dhs.gov/

© 2006 The Associated Press