Bomb attempt revives New York complaints of inadequate homeland security funding

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The failed car-bomb attempt in Times Square this month has revived complaints by New York leaders that the city receives an inadequate share of federal homeland security grants given its ranking as a top terrorist target.

Like Bush administration aides before them, Obama homeland security officials say the nation's largest city receives more security funds than any other, including a 24 percent increase this year with stimulus money.

But like its predecessor, the Obama White House has struggled with the politics of security funding and whipsawing demands from Congress. Even as lawmakers regularly ask that federal aid be prioritized based on risk, they vote to spread dollars pork-barrel-style to every district in the country.

The latest flare-up of the perennial debate came after New York's congressional delegation, led by Rep. Peter T. King, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, criticized as "dangerous and unconscionable" an announcement by the Department of Homeland Security last week that the city's share of port and transit grants would fall in 2010 by $50 million, or 25 percent.

King cited the arrest of Faisal Shahzad -- the Pakistani American accused of carrying out the attempted Times Square attack -- as well as a string of post-Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist plots aimed at New York, including a disrupted subway bombing plan in September by Denver shuttle driver Najibullah Zazi.

"The threat against New York City, the top target of al-Qaeda, is increasing, not decreasing," King said.

New York Democrats joined in. The grant change "makes absolutely no sense," said Rep. Nita M. Lowey, who serves on the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee. Rep. Anthony Weiner called the move "mind-bogglingly bad judgment."

In a letter to King, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano shot back. Overall, the city will receive $245 million for port and transit security, a 24 percent increase over 2009 if more than $100 million in stimulus funding is included in this year's total, she wrote. Meanwhile, New York has failed to tap more than $330 million in federal port and transit security grants since 2006, she added.

Nationwide, the Obama administration has increased port and transit security grant funding 14 percent over what the Bush administration allocated, up from $737 million to $841 million, counting stimulus spending, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) called the dueling dollar claims a matter of semantics, adding that the bigger question is the city's unequalled status as a potential target.

"It's purely a numbers game," Bloomberg told reporters this week. "The real issue is that this city is the target, and we don't get our fair share . . . if you start counting the risks."

The battle echoes a controversy that erupted in 2006 when the Bush administration cut aid to New York and Washington to spread the funds to mid-size cities. Over the next two years, homeland security officials and Congress tinkered with grant formulas, mindful of the lobbying power of the two regions while trying to rate the risk of terrorism.

Critics of New York call on its leaders to specify which mid-size cities' funds should be cut. They say that terrorism suspects have been arrested targeting or residing in other cities.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company