My colleague Mark Muro suggested a couple of days ago in this space that federal agencies should reward metropolitan alignment and collaboration in various grant competitions, following HUD’s lead in dispensing Neighborhood Stabilization Funds.

Homeland Security Training exercise--Indiana National Guard photo

Another intriguing model comes from a most unlikely source: The Department of Homeland Security.

 DHS’s Urban Area Security Initiative grant program, aimed at the 62 U.S. urban areas most at risk from terrorist attacks, flat-out requires metro collaboration, even in metros that span state borders. Grant recipients can’t just make vague promises to coordinate their security and preparedness efforts. They have to create a multi-jurisdictional working group with a charter on file with the feds that explains the group’s membership, governance structure, voting rights, grant management and administration responsibilities, and funding methodologies to dispense the grant dollars and coordinate their spending. 

 The agency’s commitment to regionalism is embedded in one of seven priorities the agency established in 2005 to guide how federal, state, and local governments prevent, respond to, and recover from natural disasters, terror attacks, and other emergencies. As the DHS explains bluntly:

Major events, especially terrorism, will invariably have cross-geographic consequences and impact. The expanded regional collaboration priority highlights the need for embracing partnership across multiple jurisdictions, regions, and States in building capabilities cooperatively…. The Goal does not mandate that State and local governments adopt a regional governmental structure, but it does require that all levels of government embrace a regional approach to building capabilities. (Emphasis in the original)

The agency’s commitment to metros isn’t infallible: the agency doesn’t block states from spending homeland security funds in ways that are not connected to regional planning processes or that create additional administrative delays or requirements for metros. But still, DHS is absolutely correct to focus on metros and to support shared capabilities across jurisdictional lines. Now the challenge is for the rest of the federal government to realize that metros matter, not just in emergencies, but in everyday life.