- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 9, 2004


The Bush administration said yesterday that Congress was to blame for not providing enough homeland security money to cities at a high risk of being attacked by terrorists.

A conflict between rural and urban lawmakers emerged in a Senate committee hearing in which Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge faced criticism that he had failed to correct imbalances in the program. Mr. Ridge said it was Congress that had not moved on the issue.

“We’ve tried to work on a formula with 535 members of Congress,” Mr. Ridge said. “We’ve been up here talking and working on it. We have not yet found a magic formula.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, countered, “It’s not that you failed to persuade Congress, it’s that you failed to attempt it.”

After the hearing, Mr. Ridge said that until Congress changes the current system to send more money to urban areas, the next best option is to shift some of the agency’s discretionary funds to cities.

Mr. Ridge sounded pessimistic about bridging the divide between small towns and big cities, saying, “I don’t know if you have to be a magician to get it done.”

Homeland Security officials have said they want to redirect billions of dollars in grants after two years of complaints that less-populated areas receive antiterror aid they don’t need, while major cities such as New York don’t get nearly enough.

Mr. Ridge decided last year to send more money to 50 cities and 30 transit systems designated as high-density threat targets. Originally, that list had seven cities: New York, Los Angeles, the District, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco and Seattle.

Mr. Schumer told Mr. Ridge during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee that New York’s share of high-threat money is “a disgrace … that was totally at your discretion.”

Mr. Ridge maintained the president’s budget would give more to places such as New York, even as another Democratic senator, Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, charged the proposal would shortchange states such as his.

A similar fight is being waged in the House, where Republican Rep. John E. Sweeney of upstate New York has faulted the agency’s effort to resist old-fashioned pork-barrel spending.

“In words they’ve said it, but in actions they’ve exacerbated the situation by diluting the dollars going to these high-density places,” Mr. Sweeney said.

The grants are designed to provide cash-strapped state and local police, fire and emergency medical agencies with training and equipment, for everything from hand-held radiological detectors to state-of-the-art patrol boats and trucks.

Fueling the fight is legislation by Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican, that would scrap the current spread-it-around system and apportion $4.3 billion in homeland security grants to states and localities based strictly on threat analysis.

Rural and suburban regions are pushing back with their own proposal, championed by Ohio Republican Rep. Steven C. LaTourette.

His legislation would set aside 30 percent of grant money to be distributed evenly among states and allow for homeland security money to be used for natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes.

The Bush administration’s proposed 2005 budget for security grants tilts away from the rural areas and toward the cities. The proposed budget would have $1.4 billion for urban areas and $1.4 billion for state grants.



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