Anti-Terror Funds Questioned

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Department of Homeland Security announced $1.8 billion in anti-terrorism grants yesterday, stirring a growing debate among state and local officials nationwide over whether such funds are coming at the expense of other law enforcement priorities that some say are more urgent, such as fighting drugs, gangs and violent crime.

In a sign of shifting political winds seven years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the nation's police chiefs and the heads of its 57 biggest police departments objected this year to the Bush administration's focus on domestic security, saying it has come as the White House proposes slashing traditional police-assistance programs by $2.7 billion as part of its annual budget tussle with Congress.

At the same time, leaders in Washington and New York -- both of which largely beat back a move in 2006 to cut their funds by 40 percent -- say the focus on cities at highest risk of attack is being diluted by increasing competition. At Congress's demand, DHS added 14 new cities to the list of high-risk urban areas, bringing the total to 60.

Tom Frazier, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said police face new responsibilities to counter crimes such as identity theft and illegal immigration even as federal aid for law enforcement dwindles because of "atrophy and attrition."

"There are more gangs. Dope isn't going away," said Frazier, who was Baltimore's police commissioner from 1994 to 1999. "It's of tremendous concern to the chiefs of America's largest departments that the programs they rely on . . . have been dramatically decreased."

In announcing awards yesterday of $861 million to states, $842 million to cities and $130 million to tribes, nonprofits, border communities and other groups, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff pronounced the DHS local aid effort "one of the best-designed and most risk-oriented and most effective grant programs across the federal government."

The government has given $25 billion in anti-terrorism grants since 2002 and is doling out $3 billion overall in 2008, Chertoff said. About half of this year's money is going to pay for homeland security projects, catastrophic planning and nonprofit groups in cities deemed at highest risk.

Taking aim at critics who want more money to pay for police salaries or other local law enforcement priorities, Chertoff said federal domestic security grants should not be massaged into a Washington entitlement program or a form of congressional pork.

"I've read stories . . . from a police community saying, 'You know, maybe we've spent enough on the homeland security stuff, maybe we've spent enough on the hazardous response stuff,' " Chertoff said. "It seems to me that if a community doesn't feel a need for homeland security money, they ought to say, 'Look . . . maybe we ought to apply for some other kind of [grant].' "

However, police chiefs say that if the administration had its way, those other grants would disappear.

As in past years, the Bush administration proposed in its 2009 budget to wipe out $2.7 billion in Justice and Homeland Security department grants, including $757 million from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program and the Community Oriented Policing Services program (a favorite of Democrats), both directed to local law enforcement, the International Association of Chiefs of Police reported in May.

Andrew Lauland, homeland security adviser to Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), said states also questioned a new DHS requirement to steer up to 25 percent of state and urban-area grants to improve planning and defenses against homemade bombs. Lauland said states asked why now, why 25 percent and what they should do if they already had spent money to counter improvised explosive devices.

"We need to recognize that there are a finite number of dollars available," said Robert P. Crouch Jr., homeland security adviser to Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D). "I certainly share the concern that we not diminish the focus on law enforcement as we move forward."

At the same time, Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) noted, a $782 million DHS grant program for high-risk cities was expanded by act of Congress, reducing the amount available for seven "Tier 1" cities, including New York and Washington, not counting a new category of catastrophic-preparedness grants. As a result, funds for Chicago, Los Angeles-Long Beach and Jersey City-Newark are being trimmed, Lowey said.

Overall, Washington and its suburbs requested $95.5 million and received $71.3 million, including $11.5 million for catastrophic planning. One priority will be to work with surrounding states on mass evacuation plans. Separately, the District received $11.3 million, Maryland $18 million and Virginia $21.8 million in state aid.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company