Thursday, June 01, 2006

Bush's Homeland Security to New York: We don't care if you all die!

The New York Times
Security Cuts for New York and Washington

WASHINGTON, May 31 — After vowing to steer a greater share of antiterrorism money to the highest-risk communities, Department of Homeland Security officials on Wednesday announced 2006 grants that slashed money for New York and Washington 40 percent, while other cities including Omaha and Louisville, Ky., got a surge of new dollars.

The release of the 2006 urban area grants, which total $711 million, was immediately condemned by leaders in Washington and New York.

"When you stop a terrorist, they have a map of New York City in their pocket," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York said. "They don't have a map of any of the other 46 or 45 places."

In Washington, Mayor Anthony Williams said: "It was very shortsighted for the federal government to gut our homeland security funding program, even more so because so many dollars continue to be spent in rural areas that are far less likely to emerge as targets."

Homeland security officials said the grants were a result of a more sophisticated evaluation process, combined with a smaller overall allocation of money from Congress.

For the first time, they said, teams of law enforcement officials from around the nation evaluated the effectiveness of the spending proposals submitted by the 46 eligible urban areas, cutting grants for cities that had shoddy or poorly articulated plans.

"We want to make sure we are not simply pushing dollars out of Washington," said Tracy Henke, assistant secretary for grants and training. "The reality is you have to understand that there is risk throughout the nation."

The net effect was that the grant to New York City, which was $207.6 million last year, will drop to $124.5 million this year. Washington will see its grant dollars drop to $46.5 million this year from $77.5 million.

While some cities lost money, other gained. Money for Louisville, Omaha and Charlotte, N.C., jumped by about 40 percent, with grants to each of about $8.5 million. Money for Newark and Jersey City, which received a combined grant, rose 44 percent, to $34 million. Chicago, Atlanta and the Los Angeles area each received smaller, but still sizable increases, an action that drew praise.

"Finally, risk-based funding is kicking in," Representative Jane Harman, Democrat of California, said in a statement. "Los Angeles, the top terrorist target on the West Coast, is beginning to get the necessary funding to protect its people and critical infrastructure."

Gail Braun, grant administrator in Omaha, said she was pleased that the department also recognized the needs of smaller cities. In Omaha, Ms. Braun said, the $8.3 million will be invested primarily in emergency communications equipment and training.

"Any kind of an attack can happen here in the Midwest as well," she said. "We want to make sure we can respond or prevent it in the first place."

Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, who is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said the allocation formula was flawed.

"This is indefensible," Mr. King said. "It's a knife in the back to New York, and I'm going to do everything I can to make them very sorry they made this decision."

He said senior department officials who had briefed him about the grants made clear that they were unimpressed with the city's plan.

For example, New York spends a large share of its grant money to cover overtime costs for police officers who are guarding high-risk targets, like bridges or the subways, a recurring expense.

New York, in the coming year, also intended to spend about $80 million in grants to install a security camera system in the Wall Street area, allowing the police to monitor details as small as license plates, an approach similar to the so-called Ring of Steel in London, said Paul J. Browne, the deputy police commissioner.

But the emphasis on spending on recurring costs — like overtime — was cited as a factor in the relatively low rating the city's application received, one federal official said.

New York officials were given a one-page tally that explained, in part, how the region's risk-based standing was calculated. The document said the region had no "national monuments or icons," four banking or financial firms with assets of over $8 billion, 28 chemical or hazardous material sites, as well as nearly 7,000 other possible important, high-risk targets, like hospitals or major office buildings, a tally that some city officials said had major omissions or errors.

"It's outrageous that these bean counters don't think the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge are national monuments or icons," said Jordon Barowitz, a spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg.

The $711 million in so-called Urban Area Security Initiative grants was one piece of a larger $1.7 billion pool awarded to states on Wednesday, which is hundreds of millions less than was available last year.

Over all, New York State will get $183.7 million, a 20 percent drop from last year. That means that the state's per capita share of grant money, which totals $2.78 a person, will drop to an even lower level compared with some rural states, like Wyoming, which will get $14.83 a person this year, according to a calculation by Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York.

In the first three years that grants were made, New York and Washington received more than any other urban areas. To date, New York has collected $404 million, while Washington has $167 million, compared with $71 million for Houston, $120 million for Chicago, $12.8 million for Charlotte, which all received increases this year.

Ms. Henke, while not explicitly making this point on Wednesday, did say that the department had taken into account regions that had the most work to do to raise their level of preparedness to a national standard.

"It does not mean in any way that the risk in New York is any different or changed or any lower," she said.

Diane Cardwell contributed reporting from New York for this article.