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June 2, 2006
The Truth Behind The Numbers (Updated And Bumped)

The DHS awards of block grants for the Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) touched off a fiery round of criticism, with some calling for George Bush to fire DHS chief Michael Chertoff after seeing funding cut to New York City and Washington, DC. However, a look at the numbers calls the accuracy of this blamethrowing into serious question.

First, the reaction:

New York City will receive $124 million — the largest amount under the Urban Area Security Initiative. But that's just 60 percent of the $208 million given in 2005. The cut comes primarily because the Homeland Security Department determined that New York has no national monuments or icons. ...

Rep. Peter King, a Republican from New York and chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, called the cut in funding “indefensible and disgraceful.”

“As far as I’m concerned the Department of Homeland Security and the administration have declared war on New York,” King added. “It’s a knife in the back to New York and I’m going to do everything I can to make them very sorry they made this decision.”

The Urban Area Security Initiative is meant to help cities and urban areas prepare for and respond to terrorist attacks and other disasters. About $710 million is being allocated to 46 cities in 2006, compared to nearly $830 million last year.

Chertoff responded by saying that threats and intimidation would not make him change his mind. He also pointed out that NYC, DC, and LA have received the lion's share of DHS grant money for four years, allowing them to progress quite far in their preparedness. Chertoff argued that other cities need to catch up, and that at some point the federal government has to start considering potential secondary targets as well.

The New York Times reports that some ineptitude on the city's part may explain some of the cutback:

The federal agency distributing $711 million in antiterrorism money to cities around the nation found numerous flaws in New York City's application and gave poor grades to many of its proposals.

Its criticism extended to some of the city's most highly publicized counterterrorism measures.

In a report that outlines why it cut back New York City's share of antiterrorism funds by roughly 40 percent, the Department of Homeland Security was so critical of some highly viewed local measures — like Operation Atlas, in which hundreds of extra police officers carry out counterterrorism duties around the city each day — that the Police Department and other city agencies must now seek further federal approval before drawing on the money they were given to pay for those programs.

At the same time, federal officials said yesterday that the city not only did a poor job of articulating its needs in its application, but it also mishandled the application itself, failing to file it electronically as required and instead faxing its request to Washington, where it had to be entered manually into a computer system. City and state officials denied making that mistake.

A look at the actual dollars granted by DHS shows that NYC, DC, and LA/OC still get over a third of all grant monies ($263.51M, or 37%). In FY '05, the three areas combined for $366.11M, or roughly 43% of all grant monies. Bear in mind that this is not funding for federal resources in these cities that provide for national security, but block grants for the cities themselves to use for their proposed security initiatives. In the fifth year post-9/11, shifting some of that funding for other cities isn't exactly unreasonable, especially since the program itself lost about 17% of its funding -- and that decision came from Congress.

The entire block grant program got cut even more by Congress, going from $2.5B in FY '05 to $1.7B this year, a drop of 32%. Again, this funding comes from Congress, not the DHS, which has to administer the program based on the monies allocated by Congress. Considering the overall hit to the program, DHS redirected a greater proportion of funds to urban areas than last year, even as it tried to spread it out to areas overlooked in past years.

Perhaps the amounts allocated could have been adjusted, but I see nothing inherently unreasonable in this outlay. New York City still gets 18% of all UASI funds for FY '06 (24.3% in FY '05) despite holding about 3% of the nation's population. The LA/OC area gets 12.8% despite accounting for the same percentage of the population. Should they get more? It depends on how they planned to spend the money and how they justified it, and it appears that they did poorly at that task -- and still wound up with almost a fifth of the grants available.

Is a six-percent drop in their share really worth all of this hew and cry?

UPDATE: Added a forgotten link to FY '05, cleaned up a little grammar.

UPDATE II and BUMP: This is the kind of irresponsible reporting that leads to this hysterical reaction:

The city was stunned yesterday to find that its share of federal anti-terror funds was slashed nearly in half by bureaucrats who said it has no national icons to protect and lousy defense plans.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff determined, however, that cities that have never been targeted by Al Qaeda — like Louisville, Atlanta and Omaha — deserve whopping increases.

"This is a knife in the back," fumed a furious Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. "As far as I'm concerned, the Department of Homeland Security has declared war on New York."

NYC's share was not halved; its share went from 24% to 18% of all grant monies given to urban areas across the nation. That's a reduction of 25% in their share. Someone needs to send Michael Saul and Michael McAuliffe back to math class.

And someone needs to give Peter King an ice bath. After 9/11, I thought we all would put aside stupid war analogies when we saw what happens when an enemy really does declare war on the US. If that's what Peter King thinks the DHS has done to New York City by giving them one-fifth of all urban block grants available, then I suggest he get himself to a treatment center and get fitted for a new jacket with extra-long sleeves. If he wanted New York City to get more money, then perhaps Congressman King could have gotten the House to allocate more for the program.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 2, 2006 7:24 AM

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