Friday, June 02, 2006

Pork 1, Antiterrorism 0

The New York Times
Pork 1, Antiterrorism 0

If Al Qaeda is planning on following up its 2001 attacks on New York and Washington with an assault on Nebraska, the Department of Homeland Security's new urban areas security grants are brilliant. But, of course, the White House, Wall Street and densely populated urban areas are the most likely terrorist targets, and these are precisely the places the department dangerously shortchanged this week. The new grants, which slash spending for New York and Washington by 40 percent — and shower money on Omaha and Louisville — are more about pork barrel politics than security. Given how important the stakes are in protecting the nation against terrorism, they are also a disgrace.

Scarce antiterrorism money should be rigorously aimed at the places most at risk of attack, but the Bush administration and Congress have consistently refused to do so. While efforts to protect subway riders in New York City and federal workers in downtown Washington are badly underfinanced, places that would be bizarre targets have been swimming in federal funds. The Northwest Arctic Borough, an Alaskan area of 7,300 people, spent $233,000 a while back to buy decontamination tents, night vision goggles and other equipment.

This week, the Department of Homeland Security has skewed things even further against Americans who live in the places that are most likely to be attacked. New York's share of the urban areas security program falls to $124 million from $207 million last year, and Washington's falls to $46 million from $77 million.

There appear to be serious problems with the department's evaluation process. Rather than having impartial antiterrorism experts make recommendations, it relied on anonymous "peer reviewers" recommended by governors, mayors and local homeland security departments. The panels appear to have been too focused on politics, and not enough on safety. The resistance to financing operating costs, like police overtime, ignores the fact that day-to-day groundwork does the most to combat terrorism.

Some of the specifics of the decision process are downright bizarre. New York City's evaluation found that it had no "national monuments or icons." The department concedes that omitting the Statute of Liberty was an "oversight," but it still seems unaware that to many would-be terrorists, the biggest American icon of all is simply — New York.

The responsibility for the bad allocations lies with President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. But Congress also has a poor record in this area. Representatives of high-population states like New York, California and Texas have continually lost out in their efforts to enact a more risk-based formula. Congressmen from the areas that have been shortchanged this week are vowing to fight. Representative Peter King, a New York Republican who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, says he wants New York to be "made whole," either by adjusting the most recent grants or finding money from other budgetary sources.

When President Bush and the Republican Party were looking for a backdrop for their 2004 national convention that symbolized America's war on terror, they came to New York City, not Omaha. Mr. Bush and Mr. Chertoff owe the American people a system that recognizes the vulnerability of places like New York and Washington not just when the television cameras are rolling, but when the money is being handed out.