- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2005

Homeland Security spending should go where terrorists are likeliest to strike and where the damage would be greatest. The September 11 commission reached that conclusion and common sense confirms it. But in the last few years that hasn’t stopped congressmen from Maine to Hawaii from pushing a spending formula that heavily favors small states.

Currently, 40 percent of the Department of Homeland Security’s preparedness money is doled out equally in a scheme that gives Wyoming the country’s highest per-capita spending and treats Peorians and Washingtonians the same. It’s some consolation that the remaining money is spent by population and thus favors high-risk places like New York. But until now Congress has blanched at the type of risk-based thinking Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has been calling for.

Last week, the House passed the Faster and Smarter Funding for First Responders Act. Sponsored by Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Christopher Cox, California Republican, the bill bumps the minimum spending per state down to 0.25 percent of spending preparedness from its current 0.75 percent but gives states with international borders a 0.45 percent minimum. The Bush administration has also called for a reduction to 0.25 percent. In the Senate, backers of the 0.25 percent figure are rallying around a tough bill introduced last week by Sens. Diane Feinstein and John Cornyn, California Democrat and Texas Republican, respectively, that omits the border-state 0.45 percent provision. They will have to contend with a bill sponsored by Susan Collins and Joseph Lieberman, Maine Republican and Connecticut Democrat, who prefer a 0.55 percent minimum for everyone and are effectively blocking the way to significant reductions. We hope the backers of the 0.25 percent figure prevail. In fact, they should push to get rid of mimimums altogether. Per-state minimums have little to do with homeland security and everything to do with congressional pork-barreling. They are the handiwork of small-state legislators with fingers in the homeland-security pie.

The September 11 commission has recommended getting rid of them, and between the lines of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s speeches it’s clear that he also thinks little of them. In his first major speech, as Secretary Mr. Chertoff told a George Washington University audience that a “risk-based approach” is the key to successful homeland-security policy. A “risk-based” approach does not exist when American Samoa gets 10 times more money per capita than New York.

Places like Port Newark or Port Elizabeth, replete with chemical plants right outside Manhattan, are so unguarded that terrorism experts call them the deadliest two miles in America. For our homeland-security money, they’re more important than Cheyenne, Wyo. We’re glad to see Congress coming around to that truth. Now, if Mrs. Feinstein and Mr. Cornyn can outgun Mr. Lieberman and Mrs. Collins there will be real progress.

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