Jun. 4--It is bad enough that Boston has had its federal anti-terrorism funds cut by one-third. But it is downright wrong-headed that the Department of Homeland Security is cutting funds for two even likelier targets of Al Qaeda, New York City and Washington, D.C., by 40 percent each.
News of the reductions ignited justified protests from both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. Congress should waste no time in getting homeland security Secretary Michael Chertoff before a committee to explain why cities like Omaha and Louisville are getting additional funds while cities with a record of terrorism attacks are getting less.
Six months ago, Chertoff said homeland security was changing its program to funnel a greater proportion of its funds into the nation's highest-risk locations. From the time the department began issuing anti-terrorism grants, critics -- including the 9/11 commission -- have faulted it for doling them out like congressional pork, to as many congressional districts as possible. As shown by the allotments last week, the problem of priorities based on politics rather than risk is getting worse, not better.
Congress should ask Chertoff to explain a grant evaluation process that uses anonymous "peer reviewers" picked by governors, mayors, and local homeland security officials. The panels would clearly benefit from the advice of the nation's top anti-terrorism experts. The evaluation for New York City, for instance, found that it had no "national monuments or icons," overlooking the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the New York Stock Exchange.
New York City's application drew criticism from Chertoff's evaluators because the city asked for funds for police overtime to help in guarding critical locations in the city, including its subway system. But police overtime, training, and new hires can be among the most effective steps that municipalities can take to make themselves less vulnerable to terrorists. By steering local governments toward equipment purchases, homeland security ends up funding decontamination tents in Alaska.
Terrorism, as President Bush has said repeatedly, is going to be a long-term challenge for the United States. Because it is a national problem, municipalities are right to expect long-term federal assistance. But the federal government should, as the Sept. 11 commission made abundantly clear in its report two years ago, focus anti-terrorism aid on the highest-risk communities. That means sitting down with terrorism experts from the intelligence community and elsewhere, and with officials from cities like New York, Washington, and, yes, Boston, and coming to agreement on how best to protect them. Chertoff's current anti-terrorism grant process, like his Katrina relief effort, is simply not working.
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