D.C. at Low Risk Of Attack, Says Federal Agency

By Mary Beth Sheridan and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 2, 2006

The Department of Homeland Security has ranked the District in a low-risk category of terrorist attack or catastrophe, putting it in the bottom 25 percent of U.S. states and territories, as part of a decision that will cost the city millions in anti-terror funds, according to city and federal officials.

The news came as irate officials from New York and Washington demanded explanations for why the department slashed funds in a separate urban anti-terrorism program by 40 percent for the metropolitan areas hit hardest by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out these are two cities still at risk," said D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.

Homeland Security officials said the District had far fewer potential targets than the larger jurisdictions, such as California, it competed against. They said the decisions came after an elaborate process aimed at fairly dividing anti-terror funds.

"From a risk perspective, even with all the things that the District of Columbia has versus a New York or a Florida or a California, it's a much different case," said Tracy A. Henke, assistant secretary for grants and training at DHS.

The department adopted new, risk-based procedures this year to divide $1.7 billion in 2006 anti-terror funding for states and cities. Officials announced Wednesday that under the biggest program -- involving urban areas -- the capital region's allocation of about $77 million last year would be cut to $46.5 million.

D.C. officials, stunned to lose so much money, then got another jolt: Under a smaller program, tailored for states, the District's grant shrank to $4.3 million, from $9.2 million last year. City officials had expected a reduction because funding for the entire program had been halved. But they were shocked by the department's rationale.

"They said relative to the other states, the District is not high risk," said Edward D. Reiskin, D.C. deputy mayor for public safety. "It was pretty surprising."

Ramsey expressed even more outrage, noting that the District received among the smallest allocations in the country.

"Are you going to tell me Rhode Island should get more money than the District of Columbia?" the chief sputtered in an interview on Washington Post Radio.

Although the District is home to the White House, the Capitol, FBI headquarters and many national monuments, it received a smaller state grant than Montana, Hawaii and Utah. Each of them received $4.5 million, as did Rhode Island.

Henke said the nation's capital ranked in the lowest 25 percent of states and territories in part because it competes with much larger jurisdictions, which have much higher numbers of "critical infrastructure" targets.

"When you look at the District of Columbia, you have to look at its scale," she said.

In contrast, the Washington region -- including the Virginia and Maryland suburbs -- ranked in the top 25 percent of metropolitan areas for risk, she and other officials said.

Henke said she could not provide exact details of how the District's low-risk score was calculated but said it includes factors such as population, vulnerable assets and intelligence information. When asked whether the score included consideration of the Sept. 11 attacks, which included plans to strike either the Capitol or White House, Henke said, "We're looking at the most recent information."

Department officials have declined to release a list of risk scores for the jurisdictions vying for funding under its grant programs. The department has also declined to release information about the review panels, made up of law enforcement and homeland security officials from 47 states, whose recommendations were used in making decisions.

The risk of attack was not the only factor that went into the grant allocations. States and localities were also judged on the effectiveness of the plans outlined in their applications. And those from the District and the capital region received low marks compared with plans from other jurisdictions, officials said.

"They said everything [in the applications] was at or above average, but that it was not as good as most other urban areas' submissions," said Reiskin, who as deputy mayor helped coordinate the process for the District. "So there seems to be an inconsistency there. But the detail is what we haven't really received."

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, under fire for the government's response last year to Hurricane Katrina, is facing sharp criticism in the wake of the grant announcements, including resignation demands from the New York Daily News and Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.).

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the Committee on Government Reform, announced yesterday that he will hold a hearing on the grants.

"We have to understand how this formula spit out numbers that give less money to the National Capital Region," said Robert White, a Davis spokesman. "On the surface, it doesn't make a lot of sense to us."

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she was asking for a meeting next week with DHS officials to review the reasons for the cuts. And, in a move led by Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), the Washington area's congressional delegation plans to send a letter to Chertoff today decrying the 40 percent reduction in grant funds for the region, according to a draft copy of the letter.

"DHS' conclusion that the [Washington region] can absorb such a cut and still provide adequate protection for millions of citizens and visitors is both shortsighted and unacceptable," the letter says.

Appearing last night on PBS's "The News Hour With Jim Lehrer," Chertoff said he believed that New York and Washington got "a fair shake." New York and Washington may have been hurt by their relative success in securing potential targets; officials want to "spread the money to other places," Chertoff said. He said New York has received more than $500 million in grants since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Washington region, meanwhile, has received more than $213 million in urban anti-terror grants, records show.

Stung by an $83 million cut this year to the city, politicians in New York were fuming.

A DHS risk assessment sheet for New York said the home of the Statue of Liberty and other landmarks had zero "national monuments and icons. " The assessment also tallied only four banking and finance institutions worth more than $8 billion. Republican Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's office says there are at least 20.

"Maybe the secretary will come meet us at the Empire State Building so we can show him the many national icons in New York," said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-New York).

Henke said the Statue of Liberty was included in the state risk rating but was not counted in the city rankings at all, in part because the statue is federal property. She also said other landmarks, such as the Brooklyn Bridge or Empire State Building, were counted in other categories, such as bridges or tall buildings.

Staff writer Lori Montgomery contributed to this report.

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