Homeland Security Risk Funding Wins Round One
By: Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11)
January 17, 2006
Finally, it appears that the complicated and irrational way federal homeland security funds have been distributed since 9/11 is beginning to change for the better. Recently, U.S. Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff announced that his agency was going to start targeting millions of dollars in grants according to "consequence, vulnerability and threat." More than four years removed from the terrorist's attacks on the World Trade Center, this change, which I have strongly advocated for, is long overdue and welcome news for the New Jersey New York City Metropolitan Area.
Ask any homeland security official or law enforcement office at the federal, state or local level, and they will tell you that the current grant formula is inadequate to fully prevent or respond to attacks. While we should never downplay the possibility of an attack anywhere in the United States, most will agree that it is unreasonable for the current formula to distribute four times as much funding per person to low-population, and arguably, low-risk states like Wyoming or Montana, instead of densely populated, high-risk areas like New Jersey. This subjective way of spending federal security funds presents a problem for places like New Jersey and other high-threat areas to protect themselves adequately.
While it is true that you never know where terrorists might strike, one could argue with reasonable certainty that al-Qaeda has historically focused on targets where attacks would do the most damage or have the greatest impact. Just as the terrorists did not arbitrarily select their targets on 9/11, we can no longer rely on arbitrary formulas to distribute security dollars.
By dramatically altering the way funds are distributed under the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) a special source of security funding for "high density, high threat areas" DHS will rely on the risk of terrorism and the vulnerability of critical infrastructure to terrorists attacks, instead of relying strictly on population.
Under the new DHS administrative guidelines, Elizabeth, and the contiguous counties surrounding Jersey City and Newark including Morris, Essex, Passaic, Hudson, Bergen, and Union counties, will qualify for funding under UASI. Further, it will be imperative that New Jersey s top state homeland security officials, in close coordination with security officials from these areas, present a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan to DHS that sends and spends federal security funds where risk is greatest. As I have been saying since 9/11, greater focus by the U.S. Homeland Security Department on risk and vulnerability increases the likelihood New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the country with large population centers, airports, seaports, and trans-Hudson tunnels and bridges, will receive the security funds it needs to protect our citizens.
Fighting for more federal funds, however, is just one part of the security equation. Our continuing efforts in Washington to secure more funds are only made more difficult if these funds are spent unwisely. In early 2003, I secured language in the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act to ensure that, along with New York City, areas of northern New Jersey, including the greater Jersey City and Newark areas would be eligible for UASI funds. Unfortunately, it is widely known that some of these funds have been wastefully spent on garbage trucks and other non-homeland security items. If New Jersey is to be guaranteed adequate funds to protect our residents and vital infrastructure, misallocations such as these must stop immediately.
When it comes to our security, facts, not politics, should determine funding decisions. As the 9/11 Commission strongly recommended, homeland security assistance should not be a "pork barrel" exercise. Under the new administrative guidelines issued by the Homeland Security Department, risk-based funding has won round one, and that is good news for New Jersey. Now, it is time for the U.S. Senate to follow our lead in the House and pass the Faster and Smarter Funding for First Responders Act, H.R. 1544, which permanently funds all of our nation s antiterrorism programs according to risk. This change will ensure that risk defeats politics every time!