The politics of anti-terrorism funding

Let’s cut the Department of Homeland Security sort of a break on its security spending formulas. No law enforcement or security agency is going to tell the department, “No, thanks, we don’t need any more federal money. We feel our security and response provisions are more than adequate.” There is always something more to spend it on.

And it’s another fact of the security business that no amount of security is ever enough. Security planners spin endless scenarios — remember anthrax? — and would plan for all of them. No official wants to be the one who said “enough” and then was blindsided by a terrorist incident.

That said, Homeland Security’s latest formula for allocating $1.7 billion in anti-terrorist funds seems more than strange and more than a little politically driven. The security grants for New York City and Washington, D.C., the two cities actually attacked on 9/11, were cut by 40 percent.

All the details of DHS’ decision process are not out yet, but what little that has become known is bizarre.

The department ranks the national capital _ hit by one hijacked airliner and saved from assault by a second _ in the bottom quarter for risk of terrorist attack. The District of Columbia would get less money than South Dakota.

Equally curious is that the department found that New York City had no “national monuments or icons” although the Statue of Liberty, Empire State building, United Nations and Rockefeller Center would seem to clearly qualify.

By contrast, other jurisdictions received generous increases, as a Washington Post columnist acidly noted, “the horses of Louisville, the cattle of Omaha and five cities in Jeb Bush’s Florida.”

The new numbers don’t make the spurned cities automatically right in this dispute nor DHS automatically wrong. But DHS’s defense of the allocation of security funds has so far been opaque. One criterion was how well a city was “able to articulate the allocation of resources.”

The irony of this is that the new formula replaces its much criticized predecessor, a straightforward per capita distribution that saw money going to crossroads towns where the threat of terrorism was risible.

Homeland Security must fully explain and defend itself and hiding behind “national security” or “that’s classified” won’t cut it.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com.)

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