DHS to Boost 6 Cities' Share of Anti-Terror Funds
D.C., New York Among Those to Share $411 Million
Washington Post | January 6, 2007
Spencer S. Hsu
Chastened by complaints about poor federal cooperation and by controversy over its slashing of aid to New York and Washington last year, the Department of Homeland Security will reserve about $100 million of the $747 million it will dole out to U.S. cities this year to pay for police counterterrorism operations in six metropolitan areas, officials said yesterday.
In announcing changes in style and substance to the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) program, Secretary Michael Chertoff cited a "secretary's prerogative to sometimes inject common sense" to grant calculations based on the risk of terrorism and a subjective rating of the effectiveness of local anti-terrorism programs. The process was ridiculed by Congress and private analysts last year for slighting the two areas struck in the 2001 terrorist attacks.
"This is going to be an amazing admission for a public official in Washington: We actually listen to people," Chertoff said, adding that DHS will collaborate more closely with applicants in the distribution of $1.7 billion in state and local grants in 2007.
For the first time, DHS designated six high-risk urban areas -- New York and northern New Jersey; the Washington region; Los Angeles-Long Beach; Chicago; the San Francisco Bay area; and Houston -- which will be allowed to spend as much as 25 percent of their grants for personnel and operations, not just for overtime during heightened national terrorism alerts. Chertoff cited the threat of "homegrown terrorism" in encouraging the funding of law-enforcement-led domestic intelligence "fusion centers."
The six will compete for $411 million, or 55 percent of the UASI funds. An additional 39 cities will compete for the remaining $336 million.
Repeating past assertions, Chertoff said the change reflects risk, not politics. The high-risk areas will receive nearly $30 million more than last year, but their percentage of the UASI budget will remain about the same.
Chertoff declined to say if specific cities would get a boost when grants are announced by summer, saying only that he is confident that New York will "do well" because it has worked closely with DHS.
Senate leaders were critical, noting that DHS will still use subjective peer grading of recipients.
"Amazingly enough, DHS insists on using the same process again," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the chamber's third-ranking Democrat. He added that New Yorkers "have every reason to be skeptical" of the results because the city is now joined with suburban New Jersey for grant award purposes.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said DHS also made "ill-advised" changes to a $509 million state grant program, down $19 million from last year, by eliminating population density as a factor and changing the minimum amount each state can receive.
"I am committed to passing a permanent funding formula so that the guidelines are not arbitrarily rewritten each year," Lieberman said.
Defending the program changes, Chertoff said DHS officials no longer engage in excessive "bean counting" -- using mathematical programs to analyze huge databases listing non-vital facilities such as apartment buildings, small-town popcorn stands and petting zoos.
Urban areas were chosen, Chertoff said, based on population size and density, economic significance, and proximity to critical infrastructure, such as borders and key military assets. They were vetted by Pentagon, Commerce Department and intelligence officials.
DHS winnowed a database of 80,000 assets into a classified list of about 2,100 targets of national or regional importance, he said, such as nuclear, chemical and energy facilities, dams and transportation systems.
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