Security Spending Over a Barrel

No question about it - those large amounts of federal homeland security dollars continue to be hugely attractive to cash-strapped states. But it's up to the Bush administration and Congress to ensure those funds are spread wisely among states, and so far, that hasn't been the case.

For instance, Alaska has $2 million in homeland security funds it apparently doesn't know what to do with. The state recently proposed buying a jet with the money; the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said no, but was "happy to entertain" other options.

Further, the money that went to Alaska is three times the amount per resident than went to New York - clearly a problem, unless the general consensus is that Alaska poses a greater terror risk than New York.

Pennsylvania got a paltry $5.50 per capita in federal counterterrorism funding in 2003. By comparison, Wyoming got $35.03, thanks to rural-state members of Congress who have blocked attempts to come up with a more reasonable formula for spreading security dollars around.

Moreover, New York has seen its security funds dwindle from $222 million in 2003 to $62 million this year. Yet every "Code Orange" alert costs New York City an extra $5 million a week.

Clearly, homeland security dollar apportionment is out of whack. The 9/11 commission recognized as much. Its July report noted, "Homeland security assistance should be based strictly on an assessment of risks and vulnerabilities." It went on to say "Congress should not use this money as a pork barrel."

Congress tried to fix the problem last year with its "Urban Area Security Initiative," which identified seven cities deemed most vulnerable to terrorism. But the list grew to 51 cities, thanks to a Congressional penchant for pork.

And that effort didn't get to the root of the matter: the current homeland security funding structure. It guarantees a minimum dollar amount to all states, regardless of their terrorism risk. That ties up 40 percent of states' homeland security dollars.

A House bill rightly attempts to alter this illogical practice for distributing homeland security money. But a big fight rages over passage, because members of Congress seem unable to see past their home districts to the country's larger security needs. (A Senate version of the bill rejected changing the funding formula in September over similar wrangling.)

Congress needs to recognize that because security needs aren't "even" across the board, states don't deserve like amounts of funding. While many members are notorious for bringing home the bacon to their districts, homeland defense money is one appropriation they should not even begin to consider as pork.

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