June 12, 2006 issue – Homeland Security officials slashed antiterror funding to New York City and Washington, D.C., while handing generous grants to Omaha, Louisville, Ky., and Charlotte, N.C.—even though, according to internal government documents obtained by NEWSWEEK, Homeland rated the New York City region and the “National Capitol Region” in the top 25 percent of urban areas at risk for possible terror attack. Why the cuts? One main reason: Homeland evaluation committees gave poor marks to the regions’ grant applications, in which local officials spelled out how they’d use the antiterror dollars. New York’s and D.C.’s grant proposals were ranked in the bottom 25 percent of all funding requests submitted—though the documents, marked for official use only, offered only vague indications that the proposals were inadequate with respect to “sustainability” and “implementation approach.”
A combination of secrecy, political tone-deafness and noble intentions gone awry seems to explain how D.C. and New York City lost millions while Charlotte gained (see chart above). According to Homeland Under Secretary George Foresman, one object of the latest round of grants was to provide funding for states with critical facilities, such as oil refineries on the Louisiana and Texas gulf coasts. Homeland decided money would be handed out on the basis of a “risk” score, in which Homeland bureaucrats rated the likely exposure of a region to possible attack; and an “effectiveness” score, in which secret “peer review” panels of homeland-security experts from around the country—including state and local agencies—rated the quality of specific grant proposals submitted by cities and states. The names of officials enlisted to rate grant applications are being kept secret, the department says, to insulate the peer-review process from politics.
The “risk” score sheets, based partially on classified data that included “suspicious incidents,” “FBI Cases” and “Intelligence Community Reports,” said New York had no “national monuments and icons,” four “banking and finance” institutions with assets greater than $8 billion and two nuclear facilities. (The D.C. region was rated as having 18 monuments or icons, 2 major banking or finance institutions and 7 nuclear facilities.) “It’s outrageous that these bean counters don’t think the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and Empire State Building are national monuments or icons,” said Jordan Barowitz, a spokesman for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Homeland Assistant Secretary Tracy Henke, a former GOP Senate aide, told NEWSWEEK that, in the Feds’ assessment, the Empire State Building was counted as a tall building and the Brooklyn Bridge as a vital transportation facility. (The Statue of Liberty was counted as a New York state, rather than NYC, asset.) Homeland Security officials defended the grant decisions, saying they were the result of a sophisticated—and politically neutral—review process and a dramatic improvement over the haphazard way the department gave out money in its early days. New York GOP Rep. Peter King, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said he couldn’t understand why the New York Police Department’s request for funding was graded so poorly: “No one is better than NYPD. They have more Arabic translators than the FBI does.” Rep. Jim Moran, a Democrat whose district includes the Pentagon, says the decision to cut D.C.’s funding was “absurd. It’s nutty. It’s embarrassing.” King says he intends to open a congressional investigation; Moran signed a letter with several other D.C. area representatives, including the House oversight committee’s GOP chairman, Rep. Tom Davis, demanding that Homeland “reconsider” the grant awards. So far, however, department officials are standing by their decisions.