Officials Assail Funding Cuts
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Elected leaders from across the region suggested yesterday that the Department of Homeland Security was playing politics when it opted to slash money to the Washington area by 40 percent while increasing payments to cities such as Omaha and Louisville.
"This was not meant to be any old pork barrel, where it's given out and spread all around," D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) told other officials at a meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. "That is not the intent of homeland security funds."
The remarks reflect a growing exasperation among local officials with the secretive process that DHS used to divide $711 million in 2006 anti-terror funding for urban areas. Initially, local officials had seemed bewildered by the loss of funds. Yesterday, the tone grew sharper and more accusatory. Although no evidence was offered to show that politics was behind the cut, Schwartz and others readily expressed suspicions.
DHS officials will get an opportunity to air their side of the issue at a hearing today before the House Committee on Government Reform. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), the committee's chair, has invited local officials to speak.
The department has said that it analyzed risks as well as the way communities intend to spend the money, but it has not provided specifics or identified who made the decisions. Federal officials also pointed out that the Washington region has received hundreds of millions of dollars in DHS anti-terrorism money in recent years. And, they said, the Washington region's spending proposals were less innovative and less likely to generate sustained, high-impact results than ideas submitted by other cities.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said he had no idea what that meant. "This is the nation's capital," said Connolly, who chairs the National Capital Region's Emergency Preparedness Council. "This isn't a test in grade school to see who is the best application writer. There is a real threat here."
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said he also thought the process was flawed. "It ought to be objective, transparent and straightforward, and it isn't," he said.
The Washington region, which received $77 million in the urban anti-terrorism program last year, is slated to get $46 million. The District also received a smaller allotment than requested through a separate, smaller program designed for states. Under that program, the District will get $4.3 million, down from $9.2 million last year.
New York, the other city that was the target of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, also received a 40 percent cut in the urban anti-terror funding. Officials there also have raised allegations of political interference.
DHS officials have noted that there was less money to hand out to urban areas this year because Congress cut 15 percent of the program's budget from the previous year. The Washington region still got the fourth-highest grant, behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. But officials said they had asked for $160 million, an increase over last year's allotment.
Omaha's anti-terror allocation rose from $5.15 million to $8.33 million, a 62 percent jump. Louisville's went from $5 million to $8.52 million, a 70 percent increase.
Connolly said he suspected that the panel that reviewed the application and decided the funding level was guided by political considerations. DHS officials have declined to identify members of the panel that reviewed the area's proposal.
"They figured less money here meant more money elsewhere," he said. He went down the list of smaller cities that will get big infusions of federal dollars, sarcastically dubbing Omaha "a ripe target for terrorism."
Alexandria Vice Mayor Redella S. "Del" Pepper (D), a fourth-generation Nebraskan, added: "I know people in Omaha, I just returned from Omaha, and I can tell him his assessment of Omaha is right on target. I didn't see any terrorists roaming the streets, planning their attack. There's nothing there to attack."
Connolly said he believes there is little chance of persuading DHS or Congress to amend the funding decisions. "There are winners and losers here -- this is a zero-sum game," he said.