New York, You’re Still No. 1

By Michael Chertoff, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 07/06/06):

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced $1.7 billion in new spending for state and local governments, including more than $700 million under our Urban Areas Security Initiative. Few readers may know it based on the news media reaction, but these 2006 grants continue a financing stream that places New York and Washington at the very top of the list in terms of money received.

The terrorists who struck us on Sept. 11, 2001, and their allies continue to view New York and Washington as among America’s prime targets. Therefore we have put our money where the threat is. Since the creation of my department, the New York and Washington areas, along with Los Angeles, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area, have received 45 percent of overall financing from the urban areas initiative.

New York has received more than $528 million of this money, which is more than Los Angeles and Washington combined. The $124 million that New York will receive this year is 50 percent more than the next-highest area, Los Angeles, and represents almost a threefold increase over the $46 million the city received in 2004.

It is true that, in real dollar terms, New York is receiving less this year than in 2005, when it got more than $200 million. Why? In large part because Congress gave us about $600 million less for our grant programs, including approximately $125 million less for the urban areas initiative. Still, this year New York will receive just under 18 percent of the total funds in the urban areas initiative. This falls in line with the city’s average over the last three years of receiving 19 percent of the program’s funds.

There is a more fundamental point about these security grants. The Urban Areas Security Initiative awards are designed as capacity building investments. We are looking to pay for new equipment and projects that increase the nation’s overall preparedness. They are not for routine and recurring operating expenses like salaries and overtime.

Therefore, while New York and Washington will continue to receive the majority of the money because of the heightened threat they face, future grants will also go to other, less populated areas that have not received much help in building even basic security capacities.

Besides, when we improve the overall level of security nationwide, it helps New York, too. The 2003 blackout clearly demonstrated that loss of critical infrastructure in parts of the country outside New York can have a direct impact on the safety of city residents.

Finally, I would like to clear up two other misunderstandings. First, contrary to news media reports, significant landmarks like the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge were included in our deliberation over where money would go. It is true that they were not classified as national monuments and icons. Why? To help New York’s application.

We purposely placed these structures into other categories: the Empire State Building into the large office building category and the Brooklyn Bridge into the bridges category. We did so because those categories generate a higher complete risk grade for New York’s financing proposal than icons like Mount Rushmore that, while important symbolically, would have fewer human and economic consequences in case of an attack.

Second, the Homeland Security Department has made every effort to rely on measurable facts and to take politics out of the process. State and local emergency management agencies — including those in New York — selected more than 100 local homeland security directors, fire chiefs, law enforcement officials and other experts to serve as peer reviewers of applicant-proposed solutions. When surveyed, 96 percent of the local and state agencies agreed that the panels that made the spending decisions included balanced representation, and 83 percent agreed that the peer review resulted in objective scores and results.

New York, Washington and a few other major urban centers face significant risks and rightly get most of the federal investment. But they are not the only cities at risk. Because the federal government cannot equally protect every single American at every moment in every place against every threat, we must manage the risk in the most effective way possible. And while we have significant resources, they are not unlimited. We have the obligation to ensure that those resources are invested wisely and fairly across the entire nation.