Remember during the early years of the Department of Homeland Security when the distribution of federal homeland grants was a source of frequent and major controversy? Like clockwork every few months, states and cities would be screaming bloody murder that they hadn’t gotten a fair share of preparedness funds. And in between those complaints, there were accusations that DHS was too slow in dispersing billions appropriated by Congress for their use.
Now think about the last time you heard about a major grants
controversy? It’s been a while.
W. Ross Ashley, who left DHS in late August after having served as
Assistant Administrator of the Grant Programs Directorate at FEMA since 2007, deserves a lot of the credit.
Ashley brought to the job an extensive history with law enforcement grant programs and quickly built a quality relationship with the Congress and especially the appropriators who feel a certain special attachment to the dollars they hand FEMA each year. Ashley also wasn’t easily pigeonholed as a Republican loyalist, having come to the job with a diverse background that included military service, private sector entrepreneurship, and charitable organization leadership. Under his tenure, FEMA greatly improved its ability to track funds, measure effectiveness of programs, and navigate political minefields like the REAL ID grant controversy.
Ashley was one of the just a handful of Bush Administration political
appointees asked to stay on under the Napolitano tenure at DHS. Amid
the other challenges facing DHS – H1N1, southern border violence,
organizational reviews, etc. – the fact that the grants issue has not
caused the new Secretary any heartburn has been a godsend for the
department. Hopefully Ashley’s to-be-named successor will develop a
similar record of achievement, and a similar lack of controversy, in the
years to come.