Spreading Security

How much money should states get for terrorism prevention and preparedness?

President Bush's proposed 2006 budget for the Homeland Security Department includes $3.6 billion in grants to states, local governments and other entities for terrorism prevention and preparedness, down from nearly $4 billion in 2005. The grants, which will be administered by the department's Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness, have stirred up controversy on Capitol Hill. Debate centers on whether money should be spread throughout the country to ensure every area is prepared, or directed to the most likely terrorist targets.

One statistic comes up repeatedly: In 2003, DHS' State Homeland Security Grant Program gave Wyoming an amount equivalent to $35.50 per person while New York received only $5.05 per person. This disparity is used as evidence that the grants are badly skewed, since few would argue that Wyoming's security needs outweigh those of New York's. The program allocates funds based on a USA Patriot Act formula, which guarantees each state a minimum of 0.75 percent (and territories a minimum of 0.25 percent) of the total pot. The department distributes the remainder according to population, without consideration of risk and vulnerability. The state minimums cause the uneven per capita allocations.

There are a few problems with the per capita statistics, though. "It's an apples-to-oranges comparison," says Matt A. Mayer, acting executive director of the coordination and preparedness office. If both states were to buy the same radio system, for example, Wyoming would have to spend 25 times as much per person as New York, where the population is 25 times larger. And population figures don't take into account that some states with fewer people still have to protect ports, power plants and the food supply.

New York has gotten far more money from DHS than Wyoming, which is the least populous state. This year, through the State Homeland Security Grants Program, New York will receive $49.4 million while Wyoming will get $9 million. And that is just one of several types of grants DHS awards to states. The Urban Area Security Initiative was created to provide additional resources to states for protecting cities that are likely terrorist targets. In 2005, that initiative will give New York more than $200 million in funds for Buffalo and New York City. Wyoming does not qualify for urban area grants. From all DHS grants programs, New York's total this year is $298.4 million; Wyoming's is $13.9 million.

Still, critics of the homeland security grants need not look far for examples. Veronique de Rugy, author of a widely cited report titled "What Does Homeland Security Buy?" and an economist with the American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington, says the most egregious examples of waste include a $63,000 decontamination unit bought by Washington state, which has no hazardous material team to use the unit, and $900,000 for port security at Martha's Vineyard, a vacation island in Massachusetts. "This is not the front line in the war on terror," de Rugy says.

The president's budget includes changes to grants allocation. It would change the formula for the State Homeland Security Grants Program to distribute the money according to risk and vulnerability, with each state receiving a minimum of 0.25 percent of the proposed $1.02 billion, rather than 0.75 percent.

The budget also proposes to boost funding for two risk-based grant programs, DHS' urban initiative and Targeted Infrastructure Protection Program, a consolidation of existing grants. The urban initiative would grow from $885 million to $1.02 billion, and the infrastructure program would dispense $600 million, an increase of $235 million over the 2005 total for the grants that would be combined.

Marc Short, a DHS spokesman, says the move toward more targeted allocation does not indicate that the department took the wrong approach initially. It makes sense now that DHS has made a significant investment in each state, he says.

Of course, the proposed changes require congressional approval, and lawmakers from areas considered to be at low risk aren't likely to endorse provisions that ensure their states will lose funding. Last year, because of disagreements over the state minimums, Congress had to remove language from the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act that would have changed grants allocation.

"The most likely outcome is the layering on of additional funding for those communities and targets that we agree are at special risk," says Jack Riley, a homeland security expert with RAND Corp., a nonprofit research organization based in Santa Monica, Calif. "Nobody wants to be in the position of not having given money to some part of the country that might be struck, so there's a tremendous bias toward providing resources to everybody."

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