Lawmakers plot retaliation for cuts in anti-terror grants

Grant allocations announced Wednesday represent a 40 percent reduction in urban security funds for New York and Washington.

Shocked and outraged, House lawmakers from districts that learned this week of cuts in their federal homeland security grants are now weighing retaliatory action against the Homeland Security Department, with options ranging from public hearings to adding funds to the must-pass fiscal 2006 supplemental appropriations bill for the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, aides said Thursday.

The department Wednesday announced allocations of anti-terrorism grant funding for states and cities, including a 40 percent reduction in urban security funds for New York and Washington. New York saw its urban area anti-terrorism funding cut from $207.5 million in 2005 to $124.5 million, the largest single drop for any city.

Conversely, some areas saw their funding levels greatly increased, such as Jersey City and Newark in New Jersey and Los Angeles and Long Beach in California. Overall funding for urban area grants was reduced by $125 million compared to last year.

But in one fell swoop, the department cut the amount flowing to areas represented by the leaders of both the House and Senate Homeland Security committees, angering authorizers from both political parties. House Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., rallied the New York congressional delegation Thursday by writing a letter demanding a meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

"We are specifically concerned about New York State's dramatic drop in funding, especially considering that this was the first year that the [department] was supposed to use risk as a factor in the distribution of these funds," they wrote. "It is clear to us that the current distributions do not hold up to any scrutiny or argument that they are based on risk. However, we would like answers as to how a funding program based on risk has resulted in the current deep cuts to New York."

An aide to King said he is also considering holding hearings on the homeland security grant funding formula. "There will be some committee action," the aide said, adding that King is waiting for the meeting with Chertoff before making decisions about any other actions.

A Democratic staffer, however, said some members plan to ask conferees negotiating the fiscal 2006 supplemental appropriations bill to add funding for urban area security grants. "We'll be lobbying for additional funds," the staffer said. But the staffer cautioned that doing so would be difficult because House and Senate conferees are committed to holding spending at $94.5 billion to avoid a veto fight with the White House.

It was not clear Thursday what action senators might take in response to the overall grant funding reduction and cuts to specific allocations.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, said funding cuts to her state were "shortsighted and dangerous." A Democratic Senate aide also noted contradictions coming from Homeland Security officials with regard to grant funding, indicating that there is growing frustration on Capitol Hill with Chertoff and the department.

In March 2005, Chertoff declared in a Washington address, "We cannot protect every person in every place at every moment."

But Wednesday, Tracy Henke, who is Chertoff's coordinator with state and local governments, explained the redistribution of grant funds by saying, "We have to look at the nation as a whole and understand that we're only as strong as our weakest link." She added that the New York City metropolitan area is still getting the largest dollar amount of any of the nation's urban areas.

The Senate aide observed that Homeland Security officials appear confused. "They're sending mixed signals. They just don't seem to have their act together on this," the aide said.