The sad reality is that we will never have enough money to grant every request for assistance and protect ourselves against every conceivable threat. Given our limitations, the rational thing would be to let our spending be guided by an objective risk assessment, giving priority to areas where the odds of an attack — and the likely consequences of attack — are highest. That is the view of the officials at the Department of Homeland Security, and a consensus opinion of security experts.I have some issues with what the editors of National Review are saying here; but, for the most part, their assessment of this situation is right on target.
But in Congress, reason counts for little when pitted against parochial interests. The system our legislators have devised — and which remains in effect today — entitles each state to 0.75 percent of the available grant money. That accounts for some 40 percent of the total, with the remaining 60 percent distributed according to population. The consequence of this formula is to give disproportionate funding to small states and territories with comparably little exposure to terrorist attack. In 2004, New York State got $4.97 per capita in grant money, as compared with $37.74 for Wyoming and $104.35 for the U.S. Virgin Islands. And these grants are often spent in ways that have only the most tangential connection to homeland security. Consider the town of North Pole, Alaska. With a total population of 1,570, it probably isn't on al Qaeda's hit list — but that didn't stop it from receiving $557,400 to install rescue and communications equipment.
A brave few in Congress are trying to stop this madness. Under the leadership of Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King of New York, the House adopted — by a vote of 409 to 10 — an amendment to the Patriot Act reauthorization bill that would reduce most states' guaranteed minimum to 0.25 percent and require that the remaining money be disbursed according to the Department of Homeland Security's risk evaluations. Yesterday, Kean and Hamilton endorsed this amendment.
The House plan is certainly a step in the right direction, but it is not flawless. To begin with, it allows border states a 0.40 percent minimum, even if they are at low risk of attack. That concession may have been an effort to win the support of Maine senator Susan Collins, whose state borders Canada and who has long been a stumbling block on the path to risk-based assessment. If so, the attempt appears to have failed. The House's bill must be reconciled with the Senate's version, and in order for the amendment to survive the conference committee it must win the support of six senators. Insiders close to the negotiations tells us that the amendment's backers are one vote short and that it is Ohio Republican Mike DeWine who is the pivotal vote. Our sources believe DeWine has committed to Senator Collins that he will not support the amendment without her okay.
Take the North Pole example, for instance. While it is probably true that this little Alaskan town isn't on al Qaeda's target list, that doesn't mean that a disaster can't happen there. The point behind upgrading first responders abilities is that whenever and wherever disaster strikes, our first responders will be able to talk to each other and have the best available equipment. This isn't just about terrorist strikes...although that is the chief aim of this funding.
Having said all that, I think that the House bill makes sense. I'm left asking why my senator is holding this legislation up. What does Sen. DeWine "owe" Sen. Collins that he'll trade what appears to be best for homeland security?
DISCLOSURE: I am the Blog Administrator for Pierce for Senate, one of DeWine primary opponents. The questions and views expressed herein are my own and not neccessarily those held by the candidate or the campaign staff.