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In early 2003, Congress announced a plan that sounded as if it might rectify the distortions in federal outlays--a new $100 million grant for "high threat" urban areas only. In April, Secretary Ridge said seven cities had made the "high threat" list because of population density, the presence of important infrastructure and credible threats--which is to say, because of risk. The roster of cities--New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco and Houston--matched up perfectly with AIR's list of most at-risk cities. Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York, which received 25% of the new grant, says, "I was thinking, finally it seems we have a program based on merit, and clearly not based on politics--because a lot of these cities are not exactly Republican bastions."
Soon, however, the list of qualifying cities started mysteriously growing. Ridge's office and Congress had received calls from irate city officials who had been left out. In May the roster grew to 30 cities. But the pool of money also expanded by $700 million, so it didn't seem like a problem. "We're thinking, O.K., we're getting 18% of the pot. That's reasonable," remembers an aide for a New York member of Congress. Then, for 2004 money, the Department of Homeland Security announced an even longer list of 50 cities, including Columbus, Ohio, and Fresno, Calif. And the dollars shrank to $675 million. At that point, Weiner says, he lost heart. "We found a solution, and we're even screwing that up. We have some cities on there that don't even have minor-league baseball teams," he says. "Homeland security is just as much a pork barrel as every other program in Congress." New York City now receives 7% of the money.
Some Democrats from high-population states claim the funding scheme reflects the Bush Administration's political interests. "The political reality is that they don't have a constituency in big cities," says New York Senator Hillary Clinton. "They have been very resistant to doing the kind of national planning that would rationalize [the spending]. Nobody can deny we've made progress. But we've failed to take seriously the challenge of homeland security--because the Administration does not want to assume those responsibilities and does not want to spend the resources."
Homeland Security officials insist their approach makes sense, and point out that it has become more risk-based. "We're in the risk-management business here. We know the potential for a mass-casualty attack is not evenly divided," says Josh Filler, the department's director for state and local coordination. "We still believe everybody needs that baseline level of funding, but beyond that, we want to focus." Instead of implementing a risk-based model itself for the 60% of its budget that is discretionary, however, the department is waiting for Congress to do it. Explains a senior department official: "We wanted to engage with Congress before we messed around with that." Says an aide to a House Democrat: "Essentially, they just punted. It was outrageous."