Does Oklahoma City Deserve Federal Anti-Terror Funding?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," May 31, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The Homeland Security Department released its list of cities that are high-risk terrorist targets. New York City, Washington and Chicago are on the list. But Chicago will be getting more cash to prevent attacks, while the two 9/11 targets are losing funding. The Homeland Security officials say they have less money this year and they have to spread it out to other potential targets.

One city that may not qualify for federal funding to fight terror next fiscal year is Oklahoma City, site of the worst terror attack, one of the worst terror attacks on U.S. soil. Ten other urban areas, including San Diego and Las Vegas could be removed as well. Jane Skinner has more on this story — Jane?

JANE SKINNER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Well John, Homeland Security officials say cities shouldn't be upset if they don't make the list, being a terror target is nothing to strive for. But city officials often look at it quite differently, if you can imagine. Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett is with us now. Mayor, thanks for being with us here. Isn't it good news if you're removed from that list?

MICK CORNETT, MAYOR, OKLAHOMA CITY: Well absolutely, though you just wonder what the criteria might be for a city like Oklahoma City. You know, we've been a target before. And we learned in court testimony that just months prior to 9/11, Zacarias Moussaoui was in our community taking flying lessons. So I think we're all vulnerable. And if you ask, is your city safe? I think the question you ask back is safe from what? There are vulnerabilities throughout American cities.

SKINNER: You know, you got some good news this morning, some relief. At least for 2006, you'll be getting about $4 million for terror prevention plans. But for 2007, they have told you, in no uncertain terms, you've been warned, you may not be on this list. Any indication as to why? Why they see the threat as less there in Oklahoma City?

CORNETT: Well I think part of it is because they're reducing federal spending in general. And I think that's a good thing. I think the fact that they're using objective criteria to determine funding is another good thing. You compare that to the way that highway dollars are expended around the United States and this is a much better system.

I'm not sure what the criteria necessarily are, that determine one city over another. You know, we're on a transportation corridor with three large interstates going through our city and so we have a lot of people who don't live in Oklahoma City that travel in and out of our city. And that's a concern of mine.

SKINNER: How do you go about changing their minds if you want to?

CORNETT: Well, I think you make them aware of the vulnerabilities of your city. But at the end of the day, you have to rely on the objective criteria that they've set forth. And as I think as you said in the beginning of your report, if your city is not on the list of the most highly regarded sites for terrorists, that's probably a good thing. But, you know, Oklahoma City is an example that nobody is safe.

SKINNER: You know, you had mentioned a couple of times these objective criteria. As you know, Homeland Security has come under fire. It's been kind of controversial, that maybe it wasn't so objective in the past.

Do you feel at this point like politics has been taken out of it?

CORNETT: Well, I don't think so. I have no reason to believe that. I mean, if you look at the way highway dollars are expended, it seems like whoever has the oldest senator gets the most highway dollars. And that's no way to run a highway system.

So if we have an objective system and if there's some level of belief that it's done honorably, I'm all for that. And if the federal government can cut its spending, I'm all for that, too.

Oklahoma City will compete for dollars for public safety just like everybody else. We do live in a pretty safe community. Our people are pretty happy our police and fire, and I think the recognition that whatever city is involved, it's going to be local responders that are on the scene first. And the fact that American cities are getting some priority in homeland defense spending is probably a good thing. I think as mayors, we appreciate that part of it.

SKINNER: And Mayor, real quickly before we let you go — one DHS official has said, you know, this money — federal money is supposed to be for extraordinary circumstances, not for the ordinary. And urban cities like yours, should be looking to state and local sources for funding. Are you doing that?

CORNETT: Well I think that draws the question. You know, we have these dollars available to us, but how do we spend them? And you think you can try to get hazmat uniforms for everyone in your fire department, knowing that there's a wide variety of terrorist opportunities that might involve that.

But there is a growing concern. These communities are made up of a bunch of municipalities, typically. And there's not always agreement over how these dollars should be spent. So communities have to get involved and get together and kind of be thinking in one line.

SKINNER: Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett — Mick, thanks very much.

And John, Michael Chertoff has said, you know what, there's not a lot of money to go around. We can't do everything for everybody, so not everybody's going to be happy. There are tough choices to be made.

GIBSON: All right Jane, thank you.

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