Homeland Security Aid Should Be Based on Need

Nov. 10, 2004
Anticipating a terrorist attack on American soil is not a science, but common sense needs to play a part.

Anticipating a terrorist attack on American soil is not a science. While experts believe that population, financial and government centers like New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., are more likely to be targeted than rural areas, the presence of pipelines, nuclear plants and other vulnerable facilities makes less- populated areas strategic zones for terrorists as well.

That said, the areas where the highest concentrations of people live should be receiving the highest concentration of homeland security dollars. But the formula for determining how the funds are disbursed proceeds not from a consideration of risk or density but from an imperative to spread the wealth evenly among all 50 states. In other words, a familiar pork barrel factor figures ahead of the need to upgrade national security.

On a per-resident basis, Alaska, one of the least populous states, received almost $92 over the last two years. That places it far ahead of Illinois ($26) -- not to mention New York ($32), California ($22) and Texas and Florida ($21 each).

As detailed in a New York Times article, Alaska has such noncrucial needs, it has had a problem figuring out how to spend its $2 million allotment on homeland security. Up in Juneau, home to 31,000 isolated souls, they spent money on a robot for deactivating bombs. In the considerably less crowded Northwest Arctic Borough, they stocked up on items ranging from radio equipment to rubber boots.

The imbalance has not gone unnoticed in Congress, where both Republicans and Democrats have tried to correct the formula. But political reality has held firm -- another worrisome example of America's post-9/11 consciousness changing little in areas that couldn't matter more.