- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 30, 2004

While American military men and women risk their lives to win the war on terrorism overseas, a crucial battle is being fought here at home that could mean life or death for thousands of civilians. In this battle, the enemy is not al Qaeda; it is pork barrel politics. And we are losing.

After exhaustive study, the September 11 commission came to a simple and obvious conclusion: “Homeland security assistance should be based strictly on an assessment of risks and vulnerabilities. Congress should not use this money as a pork barrel.”

But homeland-security funding thus far has been treated like highway bills where every jurisdiction is getting a piece of the pie. Rural towns that face minimal risk of attack have received more money than they know what to do with. Examples of waste are abundant: Grand Forks, N.D., now has more biochemical suits than police officers and is still getting more money. Madisonville, Tex., used money to buy a state-of-the-art command post that was recently used to protect the annual Mushroom Festival. One Maine law enforcement official summed it up best: “Quite honestly, I don’t know what we’re going to do but you don’t turn down grant money.”

Meanwhile, large cities that are dealing with real terrorist threats remain starved for funds. This is dangerously wrong — wrong for America and wrong for those who live and work in areas that have been targeted by terrorists.

Terrorists attacked New York City in 1993 and 2001. After September 11, they cased the Brooklyn Bridge and were thwarted only by the exceptional security measures taken by the New York police department, for which the city is footing the bill. Yet New York and California, which narrowly avoided a terrorist bombing in 1999 at Los Angeles International Airport, will receive less than $4 per resident, while Wyoming will receive $26 and American Samoa will receive $69 per person.

Given the Herculean efforts being made to combat terrorism in targeted areas, wasteful distribution of homeland security money is unconscionable. Let’s not mince words: Politically driven funding formulas are putting lives at risk and compromising U.S. security.

It is telling that the only instance when Congress really came through to protect potential targets was during the conventions, when both Boston and New York received $50 million each. Congress people must recognize that we need sufficient money to protect our cities for the other 51 weeks of the year, not just when they are in town.

Fortunately, there is a small window of hope. Right now, Congress has a second opportunity to fix the funding system. The House and Senate are in conference to consider changing the funding formulas. The problem is that some of the formulas they are considering fall far short of what is needed. The Senate bill ignores the key recommendation of the September 11 commission to allocate funding based “strictly on threats and vulnerabilities.” It distributes much of the funds by the same type of formula that got Alaska $21 a person this year.

The rest goes out on “threat,” which is defined so broadly it guarantees money will be sent to hundreds of small towns that have never been targeted by terrorists. It also would actually allow millions of homeland security dollars to be diverted to non-terrorist-related natural disasters. There are other programs that address these important needs; homeland-security funding should remain focused to protect Americans from terrorist attacks.

The September 11 commission report was a best-seller. Few people outside of Congress quarrel with its common sense recommendation that funding should be allocated based on real threats. The homeland-security funding provisions adopted by the House come close to meeting this basic standard; the Senate provisions do not. Now, as Congress considers the issue, let us say as plainly as possible: Send the money where it is truly needed to protect the United States in a war that has taken too many innocent lives and still threatens to take more.


Mayor of New York


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