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November 5, 2008

Chertoff talks grants--and transition

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff today announced the release of FY 2009 application guidance and target allocations for 14 federal grant programs, totaling more than $3 billion available in federal funding to assist state and local governments in strengthening community preparedness.

At a press briefing, he also spelled out some of the steps the DHS is taking to ensure a smooth transition to a new administration.

The programs include the $388.6 million Port Security Grant Program (PSGP)--$388.6 million to protect critical port infrastructure from terrorism, enhance maritime domain awareness and risk management capabilities to protect against improvised explosive devices and other non-conventional weapons; to conduct training and exercises; and support implementation of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential.

Seven port areas have been selected as Group I (highest risk) and forty-eight port areas have been selected as Group II. Ports not identified in Group I or II are eligible to apply as a Group III or "All Other Port Areas" applicant. "All Other Port Areas" within Group I, II or III are allowed to receive grant funds from their geographically proximate higher Group if the project has regional impact across the entire port area, but not from both funding groups for the same project.

Under a fifth group, eligible ferry systems may also apply for funding. However, ferry systems identified in the FY 2009 Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP) Guidance that elect to participate and receive funds under that program cannot participate in the PSGP.

For the nitty gritty of what's available to who when and what hoops have to be jumped through and in what order go to: http://www.fema.gov/government/grant/index.shtm

Meantime, here's what Secretary Chertoff had to say on transitioning DHS to the control of the Obama Administration.

QUESTION: Another question, separate topic. On the issue of transition, now that the election is over, how is the department preparing? What will your role be in overseeing this, and will you stay in place until a new secretary is appointed?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Well, we have been preparing for transition for some time, as you know. We work with the partnership for excellence in public service. We had our own Homeland Security Advisory Council weigh in on this. We have prepared, first of all, in terms of our internal processes, succession plans that make sure there are people -- career people -- who are experienced who are in place in the number two or number three positions in all of our offices. We have made sure the management directives and all the internal processes have been collected. We are in the process of planning for the kinds of emergencies that might most likely beset the new administration after January 20th. In which it involves taking our current plans and refining them and taking them from what would be 1.0 to 2.0, I guess is the way to put it.

We put together briefing books, which are in the process of being finalized over the next few days. We have actually conducted training for our own personnel over the past year on broad requirements of the department so that they are capable of helping manage the department even while the new appointees are coming into place. And its my hope cause we've got this in our plans -- that the new folks coming into the leadership positions will sit with us either late this year or early next year to go through some kind of tabletop instructional course on incident management so that if something were to happen in the month or two after the new President gets on board, they would be as prepared as the reasonably can be, based on training.

So I think we have a good plan in place. We have space available when the transition team comes and I expect, very shortly, we will begin the process of meeting with people. I'm sure I will have a couple of meetings including -- I anticipate one with my successor who, I hope whoever he or she is, will be named in the near future so we can get started talking about some of the experiences that I have had and the issues that I have seen. I'm God willing --committed to stay until January 20, of next year.

QUESTION: And then what?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Interesting question. We'll find out. My wife asked me that.

QUESTION: What about briefings? Are any briefings planned already?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Yeah, we're anticipating what is going to happen, based on past experience, is that there will be teams coming in and they will get briefings on the subjects that they want. They will also get a book that gives them some kind of a survey of what is going on in the department. And then as the appointees get selected, there will be more in-depth briefings based upon what component they are assigned to and things of that sort. I don't think, as of now, we have a schedule of when the first people are going to arrive, but I would anticipate we are going to see some people really in a matter of days.

MODERATOR: Two more questions.

QUESTION: In terms of the threat environment there has been a lot of analysis in the past, in times of transition and periods after elections, and before elections, that there could be some increase in a terrorist attack. There has been a lot of speculation about messages coming from Osama Bin Laden. Do you have any insight as to why he has not been heard from and what the current threat environment is?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Well, I can tell you that there was a lot of speculation that there was going to be an attack before the election and it didn't happen. Fortunately, we tend to drive our decision-making not on speculation, but based on intelligence, experience, and the judgment of people who are professionals in this area. What I have said before, which I continue to believe for the period of transition, is this: anytime there is a transition there is a danger or risk that vulnerability will increase because people become distracted. People are leaving, people are coming in, and that's a disruptive process for any organization.

For that reason we need to take special pains to make sure that we are very focused on the security of this country from now, in fact, from a month ago -- or two months ago -- through the first half let's say of 2009. And so we've actually kind of looked at this as a period of heightened alert where we have put into effect some additional measures to just make sure we're really scrubbing all the intelligence. We are looking very carefully at anything that might be a vulnerability. Recognizing that we can't -- you know there's no guarantee. We can't guarantee against bad things happening, but again, this is about making sure that we are extra-focused during a period of change, which is naturally one in which sometimes there is an element of distraction.

I want to be very clear about this. This is not a statement that there is some imminent threat out there that we are aware of. It is a recognition of the human reality that in a changing environment you have to extra-careful to make sure you don't lose focus on something like homeland security. So that is what we are committed to doing during this period.

MODERATOR: Last question.

QUESTION: Is there any specific threat at this point in time?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: If there were, I would be announcing it. We don't have an imminent -- we do not have credible evidence of a specific near-term or imminent threat. If that changes we will proceed accordingly.


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