The Dept. of Homeland Security program to provide grants to ports around the country has a variety of flaws and has not measured up to its goal of tightening security, according to a new, critical report from the department's inspector general's office.

Only 21% of the $515 million in grants awarded to port authorities and companies with portside facilities through December 2003 actually had been spent as of last Sept. 30, says the IG report, released Feb. 16. Moreover, hundreds of projects got grants "despite dubious scores by its evaluators against key criteria," the report says. The IG report said that "the majority of projects have not been completed and the program has not yet achieved its intended results in the form of actual improvement to port security."

The study (available at also says that "the current design of the program compromises the program's ability to direct resources toward the nation's highest priorities," but a DHS official disputed that contention.

Physical improvements, such as fences, barriers and screening and detection equipment, got the largest share of the port security grants in the first three rounds, $172 million, or 39% of the total awarded as of December 2003, the report says. Vulnerability assessments received $8 million, or about 2% of the total.

The study says that officials intended to award as much of the appropriated port security grant aid as possible, noting that in the third round of grants, officials who selected the grantees capped the amount recipients could get, "in order to reach more applicants and projects" The IG report says that the officials at the department's Transportation Security Administration said that practice "caused the program to move away from funding large and more expensive projects toward funding a multitude of smaller, less costly projects."

In the second and third grant rounds, 32% of the 811 projects were rated "below average or worse" by the department's National Review Board, one of the evaluating bodies, the study says..

Last year, the TSA's port security grant program was among several areas that were transferred and combined into DHS's Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness. In a formal response to the IG's report, Anna F. Dixon, director of liaison with the IG and the Government Accountability Office in DHS's office of the chief financial officer, said that officials at various DHS units are working "to re-evaluate all aspects of the program in order to streamline the application process and ensure that funds are allocated to the highest port security priorities."

In fiscal 2005, Congress appropriated $150 million for the port security grant program. That money will be administered by the DHS's State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness office.

Dixon's comments, included as an appendix to the report, also indicated that DHS concurred with 11 of the IG's 12 recommendations for improving the port grant program. She said DHS didn't agree with the IG's recommendation that the department only fund "Priority 1" port projects and set up a threshold score below which projects wouldn't get funded. Dixon said that in one type of port security grants--the $75 million awarded under the Urban Area Security Initiative--TSA identified ports by their passenger and freight volume or tonnage, or other such measurements. "Nevertheless," Dixon added, "the department believes that the problems noted with the [fiscal year] 2003 process will not recur."