Saturday, June 03, 2006

Wish You Were Here

So "you're doing a heck of a job, Brownie's" boss, Michael Chertoff has decided that New York's federal anti-terror funding should be slashed by 40% (and Washington, DC's as well by the same percentage) while Omaha, Nebraska's is increased by a whopping 61% because--get this-- the DHS found that New York had "no national monuments or icons."

Holy Empire State! You better not tell that to the 38 million tourists who flock to New York every year to take pictures of themselves and their goofy kids in front of NYC's former, and once again, tallest building, or the New York Stock Exchange, the USS Intrepid, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Metroplitan Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall, Grand Central Station, St. Patrick's Cathedral, United Nations, Ellis Island, the New York Public Library, oh, and don't forget the Statue of Liberty. And then, make sure you tell that to those pesky terrorists who keep trying to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge.

DHS officials said the allocation of funds was based on a detailed analysis of an area’s vulnerability to threats and on peer reviews from other local and state officials. OK, that makes sense, but then why the cut? Because although New York's grant application to the DHS requested monies to

oufit the entire Financial District with surveillance cameras, equip more cops with radiation detectors, staff the NYPD's counterterrorism bureau, deploy heavily armed cops at critical locations, modernize Fire Department emergency communications, train thousands of firefighters to respond to a chemical or nuclear incident, build the capacity to vaccinate 8 million people in four days, establish a system for analyzing thousands of environmental specimens to determine whether whole neighborhoods need decontamination or even closure

Federal officials said yesterday that the city had not only done a poor job of articulating its needs in its application, but had also mishandled the application itself, failing to file it electronically as required, instead faxing its request to Washington. Let me get this straight: The Agency that had to watch CNN to learn that the Superdome was under seige, and has 11,000 unused FEMA trailers rotting in an Arkansas cow pasture is dinging New York for faxing the application instead of filing it electronically? Well, I have one thing to say: You're doing a heck of a job, Mikey!

Look, I respect (even if I don't agree with) the Federal Government's right to debate whether its money should go to pay for continuing costs, like overtime for police officers who stand guard 24/7 at the Brooklyn Bridge (DHS says it shouldn't) or support semi-permanent safeguards like better gas masks or improvements in communications systems. Moreover, I can count along with the best of them and acknowledge that there's only so much Federal money to go around: The anti-terror '06 budget is less than a billion dollars and we spend close to a billion dollars a week in Iraq. But something is "rotten in Des Moines" when that city-- that stronghold of American icons-- receives the same amount of funding per capita as New York, or Wyoming is allocated $14.83 per person compared to $2.78 per person for New York. I ask you: Is that an effective allocation of monies to protect our Homeland? A fair one?

I say, hell no, and I ain't swallowing this while New York is on its knees especially after Chertoff reminded me--FOUR times on Thursday, thank you very much--that New York City is the "number one" terror target, and the average American, and I dare say most terrorists, know that the collateral damage from attacking Wall Street or Pennsylvania Avenue far outweighs a hit to Churchill Downs (yes, Louisville's anti-terror funding was increased 70%.)

I think this is shameful, and stinks to high heaven as does the DHS' newly-devised, and predictably opaque "scientific method" (so called "peer review") used to divvy up the funds, which as Undersecretary George Foresman's explained, takes into account the "perception of risk" by "the individual local community sheriff in a rural county somewhere across the country." Huh? Did he really say that? Is that really one of the main criterion the DHS is utilizing in its analysis? Yep.

Question: I'm just looking at the list and it looks like the big cities still got the biggest chunk, but New York, if I'm reading this correctly, last year got $207 million, this year is getting $124 million.

Under Secretary Foresman: ....[ w]e need to make -- and this continues to be the challenge -- we have to look at the risk of New York City in relation to the rest of the risk in the country, as well. So this is not simply looking at one particular geographic area. I mean, it's in relative rank order, if you will, to the rest of the nation, because you're only as strong as your weakest link. And so part of this is realizing that to the individual local community sheriff in a rural county somewhere across the country, their perception of risk is different than a major metropolitan area, but it's their perception based on where they live and where they are. We've got to look at it holistically.

Holistically? Good God. How many terrorists have a map of downtown Cheyenne in their napsacks?
The Daily News sums it up best in its usual succinct fashion: "Andy of Mayberry trumps Commissioner Ray Kelly."

As does Mayor Bloomberg's take on the outcome: "I think the facts are clear. What they've really done is taken what was supposed to be threat-based and just started to distribute it as normal pork."

Rant over. More spareribs anyone??

(Posted by "I feel much safer now" Portia.)


spd rdr said...

Well, I can't say that I didn't see this rant coming. But let's run down what Mr. Chertoff actually said and see if it makes any sense.

Michael O'Hanlon writes in today's Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition (sorry, subscribers only)
As the secretary explained in an impressive appearance at the Brookings Institution on June 1, New York, the D.C. area and several other cities should not necessarily feel penalized over this latest allocation of funds. First, the amount New York got last year was unusually high; the new allocation is a fair reflection of the average of the last three years. Second, this pot of money, in Mr. Chertoff's mind, should be used to make investments to get all potential targets up to a reasonable basic level of preparedness.

It could simply be that other cities need the help more than New York and the D.C. area this year -- or at least, that they made a better case for why they need the help right now. Third, there are other pots of money that the federal government provides states and localities; the significance of the urban area grant program should not be overemphasized. Finally, as the secretary underscored, this year's allocation decisions do not prejudge future decisions. The Department of Homeland Security remains open to new arguments about why it should again change its distribution of funds in the future.

All good arguments, Mr. O'Hanlon points out, but the acrimony that this the debate program is causing is overblown when viewed in the broader scheme of homeland defense (the Urban Areas Security Initiative totals $757.3 million - only 2% of the Homeland Security expenditures and 20% of federal funds provided states and localities).

For my part, I think there is a certain arogance at work here. One the one hand Mayor Bloomberg sounds very much like a Democrat whose favorite entitlement program has just been cut. How dare they! On the other hand, Heartland voters seem to think that giving likely targets such as New York and Washington big sacks of federal cash "isn't fair - as if "fairness" had any place it the homeland security equation.

And let's look at this year's handouts: New York is the largest recipient of Urban Security initiative dollars (again) at $124. million. Next comes Los Angeles at $80 million. Further down the list are Washington, D.C. ($43 million), San Francisco Bay area ($28 million), Philadelphia ($19 million), Boston ($18 Million), Miami ($16 million), Louisville ($8 million) and New Orleans ($4 million). Wyoming? Nada from Urban Security, and $7 million total (or roughly what Sacramento is getting).

And, I might add, Virginia cities got completely skinked. Not one dime for Norfolk, Portsmouth and Newport News, huge and vulnerable port cities. Not a penny for Arlington, Fairfax, or Falls Church - all a stone's throw across the Potomac to D.C. And Richmond, the first stop for millions fleeing a catastrophe in the D.C. & NOVA area? The same as Des Moines: zero.

So I guess it's all relative, isn't it? Although I don't disagree that New York is the number one target, I also think that it is rightly being treated as such, and is receiving a pretty hefty chunk of a much small pie.

portia said...

a pretty hefty chunk of a much small pie

Small pie? Perhaps we should begin this discussion start there, huh? But that would lead into another heated topic, and I'm trying to limit my rants to one a day:)

I appreciate I sound annoyingly New York centric when I take on issues affecting my fair city but this isn't about glory of New York's Big Apple. This is about the gritty reality of New York's continuing vulnerability.

Whether New York City received the lion's share of monies this year and every year since 9/11 doesn't mean we should get less this year. The bulleye on our backs hasn't diminished, and just because we've built a moat of Jersey barriers all around the New York Stock Exchange, Grand Central Station and the Empire State Building doesn't mean we shouldn't take the initiative to install serin detectors in the subways this year, or carry out Operation Atlas maneuvers every month for as long as there is an Al Qaeda.

I also think it's somewhat disingenious to compare dollar amounts between locales since we know that spending $9 million in Omaha is going to go a helluva lot farther than a similar amount in Washington DC. But if you want to speak in dollar amounts instead of percentages, do you think it's "fair" for Nebraska to receive more DHS funds ($21 million total) than Arizona ($20 million) which is home to the 6th largest city, and an infamously porous border?

I don't begrudge any community its gas masks or improved first-responder training but to hear that because NY received big sacks of federal cash in the past, it has to wait its turn while others see their funding increased preposterous. After London's subway was attacked, and the FBI warned of the potential of a simliar attack last October how many cities had to marshall their "assets" to protect 600 miles of subway tracks and 4.5 million daily riders?

As far as I know, New York City is the only American city that continues to be on "orange alert" the second highest threat level in the color-coded warning system. Fair? Not hardly.

P.S. I'm with you on the meagher amounts doled out to Virginia. That's f***ed. Makes you wonder about the $100 million earmarked for Florida....

Makes me wonder about the entire evaluation process, which is the crux of my complaint.

spd rdr said...

I just spent an hour and a half responding to your comment, and then Blogger ate the whole thing.

Let me give it to you in five words or less:

Five words, or less.

portia said...

You spent and hour and a half on a reply to my comment before Blogger ate it?

Two words. Thank God:)

Cassandra said...

As someone whose husband spent the two years before 9/11 flying all over the world (including, by the way, domestic ports in major US cities) assessing terrorism threats and conducting reviews of existing security measures before making recommendations, I perhaps have a different perspective on this.

On the face of it, this seems somewhat idiotic. On the other hand, like the Dubai ports brouhaha, this is an issue that is far more complex than it appears on the surface and is, consequently, easy to demagogue.

Part of the reason NY and DC (my home town, I might remind you) got cut is that they couldn't articulate why they needed the same amount of money they got last year.

In my book, if you can't even justify to DHS why you need the fricking money, perhaps your cut ought to be revisited.

Furthermore, if you then go about saying "Woe is me! We'll have to cut x, y, z program", then a logical question becomes, "Wow. Was that ever a serious priority to you? As serious, say, as providing any of the OTHER elective services provided by the city to its citizens? Or is it only VITAL when the feds are paying for it?".

Finally, spd made a few excellent points. Unless you can prove you need the same $$ every year, the expectation would be for your costs to DECLINE after an initial investment in infrastructure. The name of the game in fed funds is JUSTIFY WHY YOU NEED THE MONEY.

And if you can't do that, one begins to wonder, as people who bothered to think about the New Orleans debacle, why the feds should care about a state or a city's citizens MORE than the people who live right there. It's their job to apply for these funds and their job to justify them.

I live in the DC area and my son patrols the streets right around the Pentagon - one of the most likely targets. But if those governments can't even articulate why they need federal funds to be safe, I don't blame the feds for not reaching down and second-guessing them.

I blame the people whose job it was to lay out the rationale for being asleep at the wheel.

portia said...

governments can't even articulate why they need federal funds to be safe, I don't blame the feds for not reaching down and second-guessing them.

Well, that's we're being told Cass but the DHS' subjective peer review process is "confidential" so we may never know, however, New York has one of the most comprehensive and ambitious anti-terrorism programs and personnel in place--and for good reason-- so I'd be very surprised if its counterterrorism experts weren't able to clearly articulate its needs.

I listed some of those City's plans in my post including the city's current plans for a surveillance Ring of Steel modeled after security measures in London's financial district (and which London has had in place since 1993!) that would include installing thousands of state of the art cameras/closed circuit TVs, and controlled entrances and exits in the area to safeguard Lower Manhattan (where NYSE, majority of nation's financial institutions are located, and new Freedom Tower on WTC site will be built)...that is, if the city receives $81.5 million in federal grants it requested.

Can we live without the Ring of Steel? Probably. Should we? Do we really want to try?
(FYI, the ACLU agrees with the DHS that the "ring of steel" is unwarranted:))

My big beef with this DHS firestorm is DHS is acting, to quote spd, as if there should be a "fairness" aspect to this funding. It's only fair that we let others have a chance to put in cameras too. Well, that's all well and good if we're talking about who should get a chunk of highway beautification $$.

But we're not Cass, and there is no reason to believe that New York or DC is at less risk of terrorism this year than last or the year before, and there's no reason to accept that last year's infrastructure will carry the day tomorrow. To use Chertoff's lame "house purchase" analogy, this is not a capital improvement like a roof that you can expect to keep you dry for 20 years.

Terrorists are testing city's defenses repeatedly, and we continue to foil attempts by the bad guys including the wacky guy on trial in Brooklyn right now for wanting to blow up Herald Square.

Not unlike the GWOT, we are a mere 4 years into the very long process of "modernizing" our cities' long overdue and woefully deficient security, equipment and intelligence measures necessary to protect them. We have long way to go and a lot more money to spend if we want to stay ahead of the guys who want to change our landscape again.

In the meantime, I'm afraid that "the expectation would be for your costs to DECLINE after an initial investment in infrastructure" that you and spd suggest, is forgive me, rather naive. Maybe someday....

spd rdr said...

Oh please, Portia! I am anything but "naive." New York City has received nearly one-half billion dollars from the federal Urban Security Initiative fund since 2003 -not including this year's funding.That's a pretty big plug, isn't it? You want more? Here comes more - to the tune of $124 million from this one program alone.

It seems undignified, at the very least, to listen to the greatest city on earth bitch like a petulant teenager about its allowance. How much is the Yankee payroll this year?

In leaner times we ALL tighten our belts - whether they are from Gucci or Walmart. Suck it up and learn to do more with less- like the rest of us.

To paraphrase a liberal taut aginst Bush: "What a wonderful way to squander the good will of a nation."

portia said...

I take that to mean that you won't be sending a postcard to Chertoff for Portia...or even for Hillary.

I suggest you take two aspirin and don't call me in the morning:)

Cassandra said...

At times like this, I'm tempted to bore people to tears by dumping everything I learned while listening to about 3 years worth of post-terrorism threat assessments.

Hint: cameras and closed-circuit TVs weren't real big on the list of recommendations. Sounds like my neighbor back in California, who after some moron climbed the fence (probably a teen cutting through officers' country to get to the enlisted housing helpfully fenced and concertina'd off just the other side of our back yard) went ballistic and called Housing, causing them to install motion detectors and motion-sensitive lighting all around the perimeter of the 3 bigwig quarters on base.

Wunderbar. Now every fricking time a bird lands in your yard at 3 am the whole place lights up like Stalag 13.

I know I felt so much safer.

portia said...

It seems undignified, at the very least, to listen to the greatest city on earth bitch like a petulant teenager about its allowance.

Whatever….Oh, by the way, can I have some extra dough to buy a couple of new outfits. I have nothing to wear, and last year's HazMats are so passe.

Yours truly,
Petulant Portia

portia said...

See, not only don't I have enough money to buy new outfits for me and my friends, I can't even afford to send the correct link:)

Still Petulant.