WASHINGTON – The Bush administration wants to change the way federal security money is allocated so more flows to the states facing the greatest threat of terrorist attack, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Tuesday.
Ridge said the administration will propose changing the formula for dispersing hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal aid, which now go to states on a population basis. The homeland security secretary, a former Pennsylvania governor, said the formula should also account for population density, the presence of national landmarks, critical public works projects, and the likelihood of an attack.
"Preventing a catastrophic event has got to be the highest priority of the department," Ridge said. "A catastrophic event is more likely than not to occur in a densely populated area."
Using that criteria, Ridge announced Tuesday that seven cities would share nearly $100 million in federal funds for equipment and training. The cities must show how they plan to spend the money, subject to approval from the Homeland Security Department.
New York will get $24.9 million, Washington will get $18.2 million, Los Angeles will get $12.5 million, Seattle will get $11.3 million, Chicago will get $11.0 million, San Francisco will get $10.4 million and Houston will get $8.7 million, Ridge said.
Changing the overall formula requires congressional approval, and Ridge said he discussed the issue with legislative leaders. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has scheduled a hearing Wednesday, and Ridge said the administration will offer its own proposals.
There is already some sentiment on Capitol Hill to allocate some aid based on terror threats. The House version of the spending bill to pay for the Iraq war included $700 million for areas facing a high risk of such attacks. The Senate version of the bill included $600 million.
New York officials have pushed for a formula change, saying they should get more money because the city faces a higher threat of terrorist attack than many other areas. New York and the Washington area were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists smashed hijacked planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
Nationally, municipal officials have criticized the federal government for failing to provide money to help them meet the increased costs of protecting against terrorist attacks. The Republican-controlled Congress, for example, approved just $1.3 billion of the $3.5 billion in new funds that President Bush promised for state and local emergency workers.
Following such criticism, Ridge more than doubled federal firefighter assistance grants, announcing last month that the federal government would give $750 million to local fire departments.
The Homeland Security Department also allocated $566 million to states to help their cities and counties cover the cost of anti-terrorism efforts. The money will be allocated based on population.
Some relief from higher security costs are on the way. Ridge said that the current threat level, now orange, will eventually be lowered and that the stringent anti-terrorism security procedures required as a result of the Iraq war will eventually be eased.
But he gave no timetable. "Until there's a substantial reduction (in threats), we will stay where we are," he said.