GOP lawmakers back change in anti-terror funding

Plan would offer aid based on localities' risk of attack

The Nation

September 17, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - In a significant shift, leading Republicans in Congress are seeking to overhaul the way the federal government distributes anti-terrorism aid, with an eye toward establishing a system that gives more money to New York City and other localities considered at higher risk of terrorist attack.

The changes being contemplated seek to address mounting criticism that members of Congress have been so intent on grabbing shares of security money for their own districts that not enough is left for cities where the threat is believed to be greatest.

The most recent - and potentially embarrassing - round of criticism came from members of the 9/11 commission, who issued a report in July that, among other things, pointedly called on Congress to begin distributing anti-terrorism money on the basis of threat and risk, not pork-barrel politics.

It remains unclear how the major urban areas will ultimately fare as Congress prepares to enact yet another round of spending for domestic security in the coming weeks. A series of proposed changes to the current financing formula has already begun to meet with some resistance from lawmakers from other regions of the country who insist on money for their districts, regardless of known threats or vulnerabilities, according to congressional officials monitoring the debate.

But the concerns being raised about the financing system are getting the attention of some of the most powerful Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, where Democrats, mainly those from New York and other big cities, have led the effort to change the way anti-terrorism money is doled out.

Rep. Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican and the House majority leader, told reporters this week that he was open to changing the formula to address the needs of high-risk cities. "I tend toward designing a system that is based on threat rather than grants," he said.

Even Democrats who have been sharply critical of the Republican leadership on this issue are cautiously optimistic. "We believe we can get something done that is fair," said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat. "The 9/11 commission has changed the entire debate. The Republicans were not even listening to us before."

The proposals being considered in Congress do not completely satisfy New York officials, who are troubled that every state would be guaranteed a minimum amount of money, no matter the threat they actually face.

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