By Dan Eggen and Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 1, 2006
The Department of Homeland Security yesterday slashed anti-terrorism money for Washington and New York, part of an immediately controversial decision to reduce grant funds for major urban areas in the Northeast while providing more to mid-size cities from Jacksonville to Sacramento.
The announcement that the two cities targeted on Sept. 11, 2001, would suffer 40 percent reductions in urban security funds prompted outrage from lawmakers and local officials in both areas, who questioned the wisdom of cutting funds so deeply for cities widely recognized as prime terrorist targets. The decision came less than five months after Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff unveiled changes in the grants plan intended to focus funding on areas facing the gravest risk of attack.
Potential targets outside the Northeast also took painful hits, including New Orleans, San Diego and Phoenix. New Orleans's grants for security and disaster preparedness were cut in half even as it struggles to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.
In Washington, where the funding dropped from about $77 million to about $46 million, Mayor Anthony A. Williams called the decision "shortsighted."
New York's grant plummeted from about $207 million to $124 million. A DHS risk scorecard for the city asserted that the home of the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge has "zero" national monuments or icons.
"As far as I'm concerned, the Department of Homeland Security and the administration have declared war on New York," Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told the Associated Press. "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."
Homeland Security's grant programs have drawn criticism from cities both large and small; many have felt slighted by what they maintained was a haphazard and unfair distribution plan. This year's round of grants was supposed to ensure that enough money goes to areas at highest risk of terrorist attack by employing risk scores, effectiveness tests and 17 "peer review" panels consisting of homeland security professionals from 47 states.
But department officials struggled yesterday to defend the latest outcome even as lawmakers in both parties denounced them. Most experts and many government officials had expected that the new review process would lead to more money, rather than less, for major terrorist targets such as Washington and New York.
Tracy A. Henke, assistant secretary for grants and training, told reporters that the new funding distribution was the result of a better review process and does not indicate lesser risk for cities such as Washington or New York. Officials noted that Congress had cut the program by about $125 million in 2006, to $711 million, and that New York, Washington and other major cities still would receive the largest shares.
"We have to understand that there is risk throughout the nation," Henke said. "We worked very hard to make sure that there was fairness in the process."
The department refused to release the names of panel members or other details about the review boards.
I. Michael Greenberger, director of the Center for Homeland Safety and Security at the University of Maryland, said the plan doesn't pass the common-sense test.
"It's completely inconsistent," Greenberger said. "Where are our priorities? . . . There can be no doubt that Washington and New York are the biggest potential ground zeroes for any future attack."
The Urban Areas Security Initiative provides money to 46 metropolitan areas. It is part of a broader $1.7 billion grant program at DHS, most of which attracted little controversy because it is divided evenly among states and territories.
In addition to Washington and New York, the grant decisions included a 46 percent drop for San Diego, where several of the Sept. 11 hijackers lived; a 61 percent decrease for Phoenix, where an FBI agent suspected that terrorists were taking flight training; and a 30 percent reduction for Boston, the point of origin of the two jetliners that crashed into the World Trade Center.
Phoenix Mayor Phillip Gordon called the grant reduction from $10 million to $3.9 million "outrageous." He said that Phoenix, the nation's fifth-largest city, includes a network of dams, a nuclear power plant and numerous other potential targets.
"Shame on them," Gordon said. "They are literally stripping the ability to protect this area by actions that are incomprehensible."
Winners included Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as smaller cities such as Louisville (up 70 percent), Charlotte (64 percent) and St. Louis (31 percent). The only notable gain in the Northeast was in the Jersey City-Newark area, where the grant rose from $19 million to $34 million.
Louisville's funding increased from $5 million to $8.5 million, and Mayor Jerry Abramson said the money will be used primarily on a project to improve communications between emergency responders. "A lot of this is about logistical issues that are very important if something were to happen," he said.
Undersecretary for Preparedness George Foresman told reporters that although the program was formed with anti-terrorism objectives in mind, the money is meant to improve readiness for "an act of terrorism or an act of Mother Nature."
Yet one of the big losers was hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, whose grant award dropped from $9.3 million to $4.6 million.
The national capital region, which includes Washington and its suburbs in Maryland and Northern Virginia, had requested $190 million in urban security funds for 2006 -- an optimistic figure that would have represented an enormous increase over the $77 million the region received last year.
Washington's deputy mayor for public safety, Edward D. Reiskin, said possible cutbacks will include $25 million planned for communications infrastructure and $10 million for "mass care shelters" to house people displaced from their homes.
"I think it's shortsighted for the federal government to cut funds this way," Williams said at his weekly news briefing. "We remain a target area."
Montgomery County's homeland security director, Gordon Aoyagi, said he was stunned by the news, and predicted "a substantive reduction in a number of regional efforts." Robert Crouch, homeland security adviser to Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D), said that "there will be some shakeout" because of the cuts.
New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (R) scoffed at the grant decision. "When you stop a terrorist, they have a map of New York City in their pocket," he said. "They don't have a map of any of the other 45 places."
Staff writers Lori Montgomery in Washington and Michael Powell in New York and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.