Legislators Warn Against New Homeland Security Bill

New York Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Major Owens and Edolphus Towns want homeland security reform legislation now under consideration in Washington to be reconsidered, claiming that the measure would actually limit the government's ability to distribute homeland security funds based solely on risk and threat assessments, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission.

Homeland security funding formulas for first responders have been criticized since it became clear that areas of the country under highest threat, including New York City and Washington D.C., were being severely shortchanged under current policy. One of the 9/11 Commission's major recommendations was that the federal government not treat homeland funding as "pork barrel," and instead distribute funds based "strictly on an assessment of risks and vulnerabilities."

In contrast to this position, legislation by Rep. Christopher Cox (R, Calif.) would continue to distribute funds largely under a system of giving away an equal share among states without regard for an assessment of risk. Cox made an unsuccesful attempt to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote under suspension of the rules before Congress adjourned for August recess,

"We can't praise the 9/11 Commission recommendations one day, but work against them in Congress the next. I know Congressman Cox was trying to do something positive in reforming these funding formulas, but I think this piece of legislation does the opposite by not distributing resources based solely on threat assessment," Maloney declared.

Specifically, the Cox bill has a built in minimum allocation to each state, at a rate of 0.45 percent, so that the equivalent of nearly one-quarter of all homeland security funding would be distributed without any regard to threat or vulnerability. Maloney continued, "I believe Congressman Cox started out trying to fix the homeland funding process, but with five different committees asserting jurisdiction, I believe he was worn down by the system. That is part of the problem. We need to move legislation forward that tracks closely with what the 9/11 Commission has recommended, and not get bogged down in regional and jurisdictional political skirmishes."

In the letter to Cox, Maloney, Owens and Towns wrote, "We challenge you to redefine the funding mechanism in your bill before it reaches the floor, to distribute all the money based strictly on threat and vulnerability, just as the commission recommended. Further echoing the commission's recommendation, we respectfully request that, '"those who would allocate money on a different basis should then defend their view of the national interest.'"

They said another area of the Cox bill they found troubling is the role regions play in the application process, and more importantly, in the funding process. "Your bill apparently will allow some regions to self-define and prepare supplemental applications through the state. As you know, the 9/11 Commission singles out only two regions in the entire nation at the highest risk, New York City and the National Capitol Region. Undoubtedly, there are a number of regions around the country in addition to New York City and the National Capitol Region that have been the subject of some intelligence reports and that should remain funding priorities; chief among them Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and San Francisco. Nonetheless, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must be the only entity charged with defining high-threat regions, and certainly not local governments defining themselves as regions."

They pointed out that the commission recommended that the federal government should require each state receiving federal emergency preparedness funds to justify the distribution of funds within that state, an action not required under Cox's bill. "Had your bill required states to distribute money strictly under a DHS approved state plan, using only threat and vulnerability as its guide, then presumably the requirements of a high-threat region within that state could be addressed in one application. As a safeguard, all that would be necessary is an additional requirement that all state plans be approved by the designated high-threat region, if there is one, before the application is forwarded to DHS."

Pointing out that the House has heard testimony in a number of committees regarding the ineffective funding scheme that currently is in place and "the woefully inadequate interpretation of it adopted by the Department of Homeland Security," the representatives from New York noted that every report made to Congress concluded that funding must be threat-based.

"We urge you to amend your bill to more directly incorporate the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and to insure a full public debate on it when it comes to the floor," they told Cox.

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