D.C., New York Get Biggest Increases in Counterterrorism Aid

By Spencer S. Hsu and Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Department of Homeland Security increased counterterrorism funding for Washington and New York City yesterday but warned that doling out more federal cash to the nation's largest urban areas would require the virtual elimination of aid to mid-size cities.

Funding for the District and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs climbed to nearly $62 million, a $15 million increase and the biggest boost among seven urban areas deemed at highest risk of attack. The money is to be used in the next three years to upgrade bomb squads, improve interagency intelligence "fusion centers" and link police databases in a network dubbed "Google for cops," among other projects, officials said.

Local leaders welcomed the addition but said it still does not reflect the scale of the threat to the nation's capital. The amount is still 20 percent less than the region received in 2005.

In awarding a total of $1.7 billion in state and local grants and $1 billion more specifically to improve police and fire department communication, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he expects fresh controversy over whether the money was allocated according to risk or political pressure.

But his announcement was meant to tamp down criticism that erupted last year when DHS reduced aid by 40 percent to the two targets of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In an interview with Washington Post editors, Chertoff said that DHS allocated more funding this year to the cities considered at the highest risk of attack and also stopped basing grants on such considerations as the location of national monuments, tall buildings and shopping malls -- a much-derided formula whose main creators have resigned.

This year, a simplified calculation focused on population size, economic importance, and the presence of security facilities and "nationally significant critical infrastructure" such as bridges, dams and power plants, he said. Seven high-risk cities received a total of $410 million, or 55 percent of the money set aside for an Urban Area Security Initiative, while 39 other cities shared the remaining $337 million.

But Chertoff warned that he does not consider the annual grants an entitlement and said that high-risk cities should not assume they will continue to receive large amounts. The Overall state and local grants have declined by about $1 billion, or by roughly one-third, since 2004.

Many easy security problems have already been fixed, Chertoff added, but protections in the future will require measures such as tougher requirements for IDs, driver's licenses and passports, as well as tighter international travel restrictions, that businesses and the American public may find hard to swallow.

"My job in the next 18 months is on each of these things to call out the special interests and to say to the public -- through Congress, basically -- 'You guys have to make a choice,' " Chertoff said. "The public can decide if it wants less security or more, but in fairness they ought to understand what the potential consequences are of its choice."

In response to the announcement, Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and head of the Washington region's emergency preparedness council, said: "It's better than last year but still falls well short of what the needs of the national capital region are."

Dave Robertson, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said the region is "certainly appreciative of the increase and know we can desperately use the extra $15 million." But, he added, "it is significantly less than what we had hoped for," given a $140 million request.

Some first-time grant winners this year were Norfolk, El Paso and Providence, R.I., which received $8 million, $6 million and $5 million respectively. Houston, San Diego and Phoenix each received an $8 million boost, to $25 million, $16 million and $12 million, respectively.

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