They say the first step in battling addiction is admitting you have a problem. The step is all about recognizing personal accountability. Congress has yet to take that step in facing its problem with homeland security grant funding.

On Tuesday, FEMA’s Deputy Administrator, Timothy Manning, testified in the House Homeland Security Committee on FEMA’s attempts to measure the effectiveness of the DHS grants program. The Committee’s main criticism concerned the lack of methodologies and metrics for measuring the program’s effectiveness.

The committee should be applauded for vigorously pursuing accountability from DHS and for insisting on performance standards that measure risked-based grant funding. At the same time, Congress remains a part of the problem.

Year after year, it continues to supply billions to its constituents through the program without the feedback it claims DHS is failing to provide. It appears disingenuous to whack DHS for not having a receipt for purchases while filling the Department’s purse and enabling dependence.

To make the problem worse, a large chunk of the money appropriated has yet to be spent. Either there isn’t a need or states are running out of homeland security projects. This has been a common criticism of Congressman Hal Rogers, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee.

Common sense dictates that the flow of grant money used to build resiliency, bolster infrastructure and improve preparedness could taper off once those enhancements are achieved. Admittedly, there is a need to support some sustainability and maintenance costs, but those should be a fraction of the start-up costs.

Once Congress opens the federal funding spigot, however, they never shut it off. FEMA’s clarification on the restriction of grant dollars for maintenance costs, criticized by the Committee at yesterday’s hearing, is a positive step in closing the spigot.

Congress should continue to demand accountability from DHS and grant recipients, but it needs to find the courage to fight the perception that fewer federal dollars equals a lack of commitment to their constituents. Congress can do this with a legislative trigger that shuts off the money spigot once a measurable effective security standard is achieved. Otherwise, no matter how precise the metrics, wasteful spending habits will never end.

Jeff Sural serves as counsel in the Legislative & Public Policy Group at Alston & Bird, LLP. He will focus his practice on homeland security and transportation matters on Capitol Hill and in federal government agencies. Read More