Target the anti-terror $$Editorial
April 19, 2011
Federal money intended for New York and other cities considered terrorist targets should go where the risk is highest. Oxnard, Calif., and Las Vegas, Nevada, don't need to be so high on the list.
But currently 64 metropolitan areas including those two out West qualify for Urban Areas Security Initiative grants, which means the pot of money for cities considered prime targets is dwindling. Spreading the money that broadly dilutes its effectiveness.
When the program was established after 9/11, only seven cities were eligible, including the New York City metropolitan area. New York's congressional delegation, led by the House Homeland Security Committee chairman, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), now wants the list of 64 pared back to 25. That would ensure the money is spent where it will do the most good.
Homeland security officials already give preference to New York and nine other top-tier cities, recognizing that they're the ones at greatest risk. Those cities split $524.5 million in 2010, two-thirds of the Urban Area Security Initiative grant money available last year. The largest single share, $151 million, appropriately went to the New York City area, which includes Nassau and Suffolk counties.
But funding for the program, which helps cities pay for anti-terror equipment and training, was cut from $887 million to $723.5 million in the recent 2011 budget deal that averted a government shutdown. And with deficit reduction a top priority in Washington, the pot is likely to get smaller still in the years to come. So it's more important than ever to tightly target the dollars for maximum impact.
Cities dropped from the high risk list wouldn't be denied federal anti-terrorism money. The Department of Homeland Security distributes about $3 billion a year, through a welter of other programs, to help states and localities enhance their first responder and emergency management capabilities. With those programs,
Washington's pork-barrel imperative largely applies -- everybody gets a share. That's not a bad way to distribute some anti-terror funding if it increases security and not just some officials' re-election prospects. Communities everywhere need to be prepared to respond to an attack, however unlikely.
To better meet the need in those communities, President Barack Obama has proposed consolidating 16 homeland security grant programs into fewer, broader grants.
Congress should support that change and ensure that, as a part of the deal, states and localities get more flexibility to determine how they spend the money.
But the Urban Areas Security Initiative for high risk areas should be different. The risk of attack is clearly greater in this region because of the large population, numerous national landmarks and the high global profile. The World Trade Center was attacked twice, and there have been numerous other plots and close calls, like the May 2010 attempt to detonate a car bomb in Times Square.
When doling out money in Washington, it's politically expedient to make sure every state or congressional district gets a piece. What works for highways or bridges isn't the best way to prepare for terrorist attacks.