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.
In New York, funding increased $10 million, to $134 million, yet remained 37 percent below its 2005 peak, prompting renewed complaints from lawmakers. Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) called the process "indefensible" and said "vulnerabilities exist everywhere, but real threats do not." Like Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (R), she urged Congress to endorse strictly risk-based funding.
Chertoff responded in the interview that "for the people who say, 'No, you should move more money around the pie,' I want them to tell me what cities to cut. . . . Maybe Congress wants to go down that road and say, 'We're going to put it all in six cities.' I think that would be a mistake."
Chertoff noted that terrorists in last month's failed car-bomb attacks in Britain targeted not just London but also much smaller Glasgow, Scotland. He also cited the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, the disrupted millennium bomb plot against Los Angeles International Airport, and recent arrests in Atlanta, Chicago, Miami and Trenton, N.J., as examples of terrorist plotting outside of cities attacked on Sept. 11.
"People say, 'Well isn't most of the threat, all the threat in New York?' . . . The answer is no, it's not," Chertoff said. "If we put all the money there, we'd be inviting people to attack second-level cities."
The DHS grants are meant to be used to buy equipment for first responders, improve detection systems, and pay for planning, training and exercises. DHS has been keen to finance fusion centers and an expanded surveillance camera program in New York that is similar to ones in Chicago and Washington.
Separately, DHS and the Commerce Department announced $1 billion in grants yesterday to fix longtime emergency communication problems underscored by troubled responses to the 2001 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The District will receive about $12 million; Virginia, $25 million; and Maryland, $23 million.
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), chairman of a House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence, called the dispersal of such communications grants "totally unacceptable" and said they should be focused on a few at-risk areas. Other critics noted that the Bush administration had financed these grants by reducing other homeland security grants.
"Scattering these grants around the country . . . may help some jurisdictions buy a few new radios. It may thus make good politics. But it will not cover the targeted investments required for true national interoperability," she said.
DHS officials said that they also expect to award most of $255 million for new transit, ports and catastrophe planning, and that the grants will be financed by supplemental or other budget legislation to be allocated to Washington and other high-risk areas.
Under a separate $509 million awarded yesterday through the State Homeland Security Grant Program, the District will receive $6 million; Maryland, $12 million; and Virginia, $14 million, each an increase of about 50 percent.