U.S. trims state's funding

Homeland security cuts deeper than expected

July 26, 2008|By Bradley Olson and Matthew Hay Brown | Bradley Olson and Matthew Hay Brown,Sun Reporters

WASHINGTON - The federal government is slicing more than $2.5 million from homeland security grants to Baltimore and Maryland this year - a deeper cut than state officials were told to expect.

While increases to some of the largest U.S. cities and states meant total funding nationwide went up, most jurisdictions saw similar declines, according to figures released yesterday by the Department of Homeland Security.

The money will be used to improve capabilities for a chemical or nuclear "event," standardize training and equipment among various agencies and jurisdictions, and test the preparedness of the city and state. One such use of the money will come Aug. 2, city officials said, when they will simulate a response to a "catastrophic event" at M&T Bank Stadium that will include police, medical and news media relations operations to test how well Baltimore is prepared for such an event.

Even with the 8 percent decrease, city and state officials said the nearly $30 million in grants coming to Baltimore and Maryland will meet funding needs for various programs, training initiatives and infrastructure improvements to prepare for disasters and attacks.

But that doesn't mean everyone was satisfied. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger noted the factors that pose a higher security threat for the Baltimore region: the presence of the National Security Agency, major air and seaports, strategically significant military installations and its proximity to Washington.

"We have some very significant areas that could be targets," the Baltimore County Democrat said. "I'm unhappy with the fact that we got a cut from last year."

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the department doled out the money according to the quality of grant applications and newly applied factors such as population density and metropolitan boundaries that include the surrounding areas of most cities. The pool of cities eligible for the money also increased, he said, which reduced the amount available to others.

Chertoff said the money is awarded based on risk and in a "disciplined, common-sensical" manner.

"We have reduced our vulnerabilities" in the five years of the program's existence, he said. "Almost $30 billion in funds pays off."

The department will give the Baltimore area nearly $11.6 million - about the same as Miami and Phoenix - through its Urban Area Security Initiative. That's a drop of $357,500, or about 3 percent, from last year. Metropolitan Washington will get $59.8 million -- down $1.8 million, also 3 percent.

Among major metropolitan areas, only New York City, Houston and San Francisco saw funding increases. Fourteen smaller cities, such as Hartford, Conn., and San Juan, Puerto Rico, are getting grants for the first time.

Maryland will get $18 million, a cut of $2.2 million, or 11 percent. State officials say they were told to expect a 3 percent cut. Several states, including California, New York, Texas and New Jersey, are getting increases, as is the District of Columbia.

The state has fared well in other homeland security grant programs this year, including in May, when lawmakers and federal officials announced that funding for port security had more than tripled to $6.6 million compared with the year before, when it had been cut almost by half.

"On a year-to-year basis, I don't think we're surprised to see these fluctuations," Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said. "The total money is significant. ... We're fighting for our region to receive greater funds. So we'll continue to fight. But we think part of this is going to be a larger pie to work with."

In many areas, the money has become a vital mechanism for replenishing long-neglected communications equipment and standardizing how local and state agencies respond to an attack or disaster. But this year the department specified that 25 percent of the money for states be spent on preventing attacks by the homemade bombs referred to as "improvised explosive devices."

Another requirement channels 80 percent of the funds for states to local jurisdictions. In some areas, public officials have begun to question whether that money wouldn't be better spent on more police officers or narcotics investigations.

Andrew A. Lauland, homeland security adviser to Gov. Martin O'Malley, said state officials are still working with the Department of Homeland Security to determine how to meet the requirements, some of which "seem somewhat arbitrary," he said.

"I agree that homemade bombs were the most commonly used means of attack in the past, but for that reason it's an area that a lot of states and local jurisdictions have invested heavily in," he said.

As an alternative, he said, the Department of Homeland Security could have set a baseline for what every jurisdiction would need to prevent homemade bomb attacks, and then, once they met that baseline, allow them to apply the funds for other, related purposes.

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