N.Y. Congressman Blasts Colleagues for Funding DHS 'Boondoggles'

Standing in the middle of Times Square - a New York icon if ever there was one - a U.S. congressman on Sunday ripped government officials and fellow lawmakers for funneling federal anti-terrorism funds into an array of local projects ranging from a Texas mushroom festival to surveillance cameras for an Alaska fishing village.

"These are outrageous boondoggles," said Rep. Anthony Weiner, whose list of examples also included bulletproof vests for police dogs in Columbus, Ohio, and a Kentucky program to keep terrorists from raising money through bingo halls.

Weiner, who represents a Brooklyn district, thus joined a chorus of other New York officials protesting decisions by the federal Department of Homeland Security to spread anti-terrorism grants to local and state projects across the country at the expense of New York, Washington and other high-risk target cities.

DHS said New York's allocation for 2006 would be $124.5 million (euro97.15 million), a 40 percent cutback from last year's $207.5 million. DHS chief Michael Chertoff defended the funding cut, arguing that the city has zero national monuments or icons and only four major financial institutions.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Sunday that he had spent part of the weekend reviewing the application documents that the city submitted and dismissed the idea floated by some federal officials that the proposals were inadequate.

He said he planned to have a followup conversation with Chertoff on Monday but was not optimistic that the funding would change.

"Once they make announcements, it's very difficult for them to change it, and they tend not to do that," Bloomberg said. "But hope springs eternal, and in any case remember we've got next year to fight for."

New York officials have expressed particular fury over DHS statements that the city lacks icons worthy of security funding.

"It is an outrage that funds for the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge are being used to buy bulletproof vests for Fido," Weiner told a news conference amid the swirl of Times Square traffic and bemused tourists.

Weiner said seven of 14 cities receiving more funding this year are smaller than Staten Island, the smallest of New York City's five boroughs.

When told that the mayor of Omaha, Nebraska, reportedly had said people in New York should "stop whining" about the reduced grants, Weiner replied, "If he believes every program should be given out, whether you need it or not, maybe New York should get more funds for agriculture. Maybe we should start getting some corn subsidy money for Brooklyn and Queens."

Noting that Times Square is called the "crossroads of the world," Weiner said that "when the mayor of Omaha visits here, he will be safe. If I ever, God forbid, find myself in Omaha, I know they don't need homeland security funds to keep us safe. I'm sure that if I pass through their one traffic light, I'll know I did something wrong."

Last month, Weiner took the unusual step of offering an amendment to a farm spending bill that would guarantee New York receives a minimum share of rice and cotton farm support. He called his own measure, which was ruled out of order, "absurd" but said it was no more absurd than the current system of granting every state a minimum amount of homeland security funding.

Weiner said his list of questionable projects was gleaned from local newspapers and television reports around the country because DHS did not provide such information. They included $202,000 (euro157,628) to install 70 video surveillance cameras in Dillingham, Alaska, a fishing village of 2,400 people, $36,000 (euro28,092) to prevent terrorists from raising money through bingo halls in Kentucky, and a $30,000 (euro23,410) medical aid trailer for the annual Madisonville, Texas, mushroom festival.

In another news conference, Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the Bush administration also was considering cuts in funding for preparedness against bioterrorism in New York state by 17 percent and in the city by 15 percent, while smaller and less vulnerable locales would suffer lesser cuts.

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