By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 10, 2006
The Department of Homeland Security sharply cut the Washington region's anti-terrorism funding in part because its grant application was among the weakest nationwide -- with one proposal scoring so low that money cannot be drawn without federal permission, officials said.
The region's spending proposals were less innovative and less likely to produce sustained, high-impact results than those submitted by other cities, DHS officials said. The application ranked in the bottom 25 percent of those submitted by urban areas from across the country.
The details emerged as Homeland Security authorities defended the controversial urban grant program, in which $711 million was handed out using what was billed as a new, risk-based approach. The grants to the Washington and New York regions, the targets of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, plummeted by 40 percent compared with last year. That stunned local politicians, who have questioned the criteria and the secrecy of the process.
"What was not innovative, I don't know," said Edward D. Reiskin, D.C. deputy mayor for public safety, who helped prepare the application.
George W. Foresman, DHS undersecretary for preparedness, said the region's ranking indicates that its proposals were less likely to produce tangible, sustainable improvements than some other applicants' ideas.
"Remember: We have to be concerned about the nation as a whole," Foresman said.
DHS officials have noted that there was less money to hand out this year, because Congress cut 15 percent of the program budget from the previous year. The Washington region still got the fourth-highest grant -- $46 million, behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. But local officials had expected an increase from the $77 million they received last year.
Foresman said the region ranked in the 97th percentile for risk, the most important factor in the grant. But the other factor -- the application's effectiveness -- accounts for one-third of the score.
D.C. area officials "didn't screw up" their application, Foresman said. One reason it is difficult to justify more money for the capital region is that it already has federal forces helping to protect it, including the military, Foresman said. Also, the area has already received hundreds of millions of dollars in DHS anti-terrorism money in recent years, he said.
Before joining DHS, Foresman was Virginia's homeland security adviser. "They've done a lot of the low-hanging fruit," he said of the Washington region. "And so, when you start getting up into the kind of mid-level and high branches of the tree, it might be a little more expensive, more complicated, a little more difficult to quantify the effectiveness" compared to other cities.
Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), who has written to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff on behalf of the local congressional delegation protesting the cut, said that Homeland Security officials had "lost sight of the mission."
"The mission is to protect the public," Moran said. "And they get all excited if they have a grant they can reject or find deficient. It would seem if they would make some phone calls and tell the communities how to use the money better, the communities would be very receptive to that."
Reiskin disputed the idea that the region needs less money because of the federal security presence. Although they were appreciated, "the federal agencies, rightly, are primarily looking out for their own interests. . . . They're not necessarily looking out for the interests of the people of the District" or the suburbs, he said.
The D.C. region's grant is expected to come under scrutiny Thursday at a hearing of the House Committee on Government Reform, led by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.).
Reiskin and the homeland security directors of Virginia and Maryland were in charge of the Washington region's application. It included input from committees that included, among others, state and local officials, law enforcement officials and first responders.
Reiskin said he has received no feedback other than the standard DHS response form about why the region's submission ranked low.
DHS gave average- or above-average grades for all 12 proposals in the region's application. Nonetheless, one of them -- for homeland security planning and response programs -- was ranked in the lowest 15 percent of all 478 proposed projects nationwide.
That means the region can't use any money for those areas without special permission from Homeland Security and must redo that part of the proposal, according to the DHS form sent to the capital region.
The region's overall proposal got average or better grades for such factors as relevance and feasibility but a below-average mark for innovativeness.
Homeland Security officials would not identify members of the panel that reviewed the D.C. region's application, saying the process was confidential. Foresman said he could not provide specifics on why the application got such ratings.
The District and neighboring states also lost millions each under a separate anti-terror program designed for states. Virginia's grant fell from $34 million last year to $16.8 million for 2006, according to Robert Crouch, homeland security adviser to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D).
Maryland's grant plunged from $39 million to $24.3 million, said Jim Pettit, a spokesman for the state homeland security director, Dennis Schrader. The District's grant dropped from $9.2 million to $4.3 million.