By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 16, 2006
A top official at the Department of Homeland Security said the agency will not reconsider its decision to cut anti-terror grants for Washington and New York by 40 percent, despite criticism and pointed questioning yesterday by congressional representatives from those regions.
George W. Foresman, DHS undersecretary for preparedness, stood by the complicated formulas used by a secret panel of reviewers to divide $711 million in 2006 funds for urban areas across the country. The result was that Washington and New York, the two areas targeted on Sept. 11, 2001, will get less than last year, while Omaha, Charlotte, Louisville and other cities will receive more.
"I feel confident in the risk analysis process and the peer review process," Foresman said at a congressional hearing, calling his agency's risk analysis "incredible." "What we need to do is a better job in communicating with the communities."
But Foresman appeared to have a difficult time communicating with the congressional panel. Lawmakers from both parties lambasted DHS and called its decision-making process "mind-boggling," "a mystery" and "goofy" and said it doesn't appear to meet its stated goal -- distributing federal dollars to regions that face the greatest risk of attack.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) called it "one of the greatest displays of incompetence."
More than two hours into the hearing, a top Maryland official attending the session said he still did not understand why his state is receiving only $24 million in a separate grant program when it expected as much as $40 million. "To be honest with you, I'm mystified still," said Dennis Schrader, Maryland's director of homeland security.
The Washington region, which received $77 million in the urban anti-terrorism program last year, is slated to get $46 million. It had requested $160 million.
Foresman, the former homeland security chief for Virginia, said it wasn't that the risk has dropped in New York or the Washington region but that federal officials have a better understanding of the national picture. The number of urban areas that federal officials consider under threat has grown from seven to more than 100, he said.
He tried to correct earlier statements by DHS officials that the District and New York got less money because of weak applications. "They were not deficient in their applications," he said. "Effectiveness measures were reviewed in relation to others around the country and ranked."
And Foresman dismissed recent statements from some area elected leaders that politics may have played a part. "It's an incorrect allegation that this was driven by politics," he said.
This marked the first time that DHS used risk as a key factor in evaluating competing requests for money from cities and states. The lawmakers and heads of homeland security in Virginia, Maryland and the District applauded that goal but not its execution.
Edward D. Reiskin, the District's deputy mayor for public safety, said the outcomes "don't seem to square with professional and common sense."
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who called the hearing as chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, got into a back-and-forth with Foresman, pressing him to explain why the District will get less money than Montana in one grant program.
"Do you think Montana is at greater risk than D.C.?" Davis asked.
"We don't rate one community against another," Foresman said.
"Doesn't it seem on risk alone, D.C. would have a higher risk than Montana?" Davis said.
"On just risk, D.C. would have scored higher," Foresman said, adding that other factors were involved, including an analysis of the way each community intended to spend its grant, whether that plan would be effective and whether it advanced national homeland security goals.
Davis wasn't swayed. "How in the world is a risk or threat or anything in Montana or North Dakota or South Dakota higher than in the District?" he asked. "I don't think it passes the laugh test."
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) calculated that his state was receiving $4.50 per resident while Wyoming was getting $16 per resident.
"We're protecting the grizzly bears in Wyoming, as opposed to the people who work around Fort Meade and NSA," Ruppersberger said.