When the federal government recently announced homeland security grant allocations for states and urban areas, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., used a resource that most other politicians do not have — a national e-mail list — to decry the cuts in New York's funding. A Clinton aide wrote the senator's political supporters urging them to oppose the cuts. The senator's decision to tap into her nationwide political network to seek support for New York's cause demonstrates the pitched competition for federal grants. While cities, counties and states are united on most issues, they can fight bitterly for federal dollars.
Several large metropolitan areas were already fuming earlier this year after learning the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) new risk-based formula to determine eligibility for grants under its Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) left them out of the running. The department named 35 urban areas that would be eligible to apply for the grants in 2006, leaving out cities that had been eligible in previous years, such as Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Diego.
But the anger was compounded when the funding allocations were announced recently, revealing DHS had decided to cut funding under the UASI to some large cities, like New York and Washington, while several smaller cities — such as Omaha, Neb., and Louisville, Ky. — received funding boosts. Many city officials scrambled to understand the decision and vowed to fight the funding cuts. “The millions of people who work and live in the nation's capital know that this area remains a top target of terrorists and is also a critical element of our country's ability to function in a natural disaster,” says Washington Mayor Anthony Williams. “I hope that Congress can undo the ill-considered recommendations of the Department of Homeland Security.”
Chertoff has defended the department's funding decisions, saying in a June 1 speech in Washington that some communities are operating on a low level of preparedness and deserve extra support. The department has said it not only looked at an area's general risk but also at how the requested funding would be used. In addition, the total amount of funding available for the UASI program dropped from $854.7 million in 2005 to $757.3 million in 2006.
While some city officials were planning to fight the decisions, others were praising the process and giving thanks for the needed dollars to fund important security projects. “On this occasion, the Department of Homeland Security went to extreme measures to make it fair and brought in reviewers from all over to look at the justifications. The process couldn't have been any more fair,” says Don Thorson, deputy chief of staff for Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey. “They also started with a pot of money, and we had to show the investment justifications first, and to me that was an excellent way to do it,” adds Thorson, who leads the area's UASI program.
The competition for funding is somewhat healthy, but it should not be the primary factor in a grant program, says Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank. “I think there is a role for competition, but it should be a secondary role,” he says. “We want to make every city secure, not just some.”
The author is the Washington correspondent for American City & County.