WASHINGTON – Anti-terrorism funding cuts to New York and Washington are a step backward in the fight against terrorism,members of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security agreed at a hearing Wednesday.
Mayors Michael Bloomberg of New York and Anthony Williams of the District of Columbia testified at the hearing,which came less than a month after the Department of Homeland Security announced its Urban Area Security Initiative grant program allocations. Both New York and the capital received significant cuts,$83 million and $31 million,respectively.
The department initiative,designed to reduce vulnerability and prevent terrorism in large urban areas,uses a formula that combines population density,critical infrastructure,current funding and a threat-vulnerability assessment. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff chooses the cities that receive grants.
Milwaukee,Wis.,and Charlotte,N.C.,are among cities that received significant increases.
Both mayors said DHS grants are primarily for technology,but the cities need support for ongoing policing.
“The bias on the part of DHS penalizes us for our aggressiveness and diligence in protecting our city,” Bloomberg said.
“Crime solving is not about using the technology you see on TV shows like ‘CSI,'” Bloomberg said. “Good ol'-fashioned boots on the ground have protected New York City. We have 40,000 police officers out there every day,pounding the beat. It is all about having well-trained,highly motivated people who go out into the community and pay attention for the abnormalities.”
Bloomberg predicted a strain on other resources,such as libraries,schools and cultural institutions. “Our annual budget only has so much money. Our number one priority is safety,” he said.
“We are looking for additional resources to continue our anti-terrorism programs,” said Raymond W. Kelly,New York City police commissioner. “We've had to put some programs we were looking to implement this year on hold,but we are still planning to spend $1 billion on security over the next four years.”
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said,“Our police officers will always be concerned about day-to-day crime. There are 76 homicides this year,and not one was caused by a terrorist. We need federal funding to handle terrorism.”
Williams questioned DHS's rationale.
“Who wouldn't support a risk-based approach to funding?” he asked. “Although we understood that fewer funds were available,we considered ourselves at high risk and therefore planned to receive a larger piece of the portion. I was never told that we were at a lower risk.”
Bloomberg criticized the application process,citing 18 terrorist threats and attacks in New York City since 1990. The city submitted a 200-page application.
“We were surprised,” he said. “We had the greatest group of experts working on this report. The application process should not be a test for who can write the best for their term papers for their college class. It should be about presenting the facts as to what is needed to make this country better.”
Williams agreed,saying,“I want to make sure that the department allocates money in a transparent and objective way. … I don't understand the process as it stands now.”
Committee members also learned the cities could not find out why their funding was slashed.
“Even though we have a working relationship with the department,there wasn't any kind of coaching or assistance in saying,‘District of Columbia,you are one of the highest-risk areas in the nation. Let's work together to build an application.' No,that never happened,” Williams said.
The committee plans to call Chertoff to testify about terrorism funding procedures and its contract with Shirlington Limousine to transport department employees around the capital. The committee is investigating how DHS selected the company,despite its poor performance on other contracts.
“I am hoping that the committee can propose legislation that can revise the formula that the DHS uses to determine anti-terrorism funding,” Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton,D-D.C.,said.
“This is a sham – this whole operation. And we blame the folks that have come before us and Homeland Security,” said Bill Pascrell,D-N.J.,referring to high-ranking DHS officials.