WASHINGTON – The mayors of New York and Washington pleaded with Congress on Wednesday to do something about the process that led to steep cuts in the federal money their cities get to help guard against terrorist attacks.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams, joined by their top police officials, said the Homeland Security Department's decision last month to slash their anti-terror funding by 40 percent would slow security upgrades in the two cities struck by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"It is a process that appears to be fundamentally broken," Bloomberg told the House Homeland Security Committee.
Williams said the cut would not make the nation's capital less secure but would delay some necessary programs, such as technology upgrades to help police process intelligence information.
"We will not be able to continue to improve our capability, and therefore our preparedness, as much or as quickly as we had expected," Williams said.
The Homeland Security Department announced in May that New York City's funding under a high-threat program for cities at risk of attack would drop from $207 million to $124 million. DHS cut funding for the Washington area from $77 million to $46 million.
A number of cities saw increases, including Omaha, Neb., which was awarded $8.3 million, up from $5.1 million.
The cuts were partly due to Congress' decision to reduce by $125 million funding for the overall program, Urban Area Security Initiative, a drop of about 14 percent.
On top of that reduction, DHS officials cut the cities of New York and Washington even further, arguing that their new, highly detailed grant application process justified the move.
Officials from both cities insisted the new paperwork was part of the problem. To underscore that point, Bloomberg plopped his city's 200-page application on the table in front of him.
Homeland Security Undersecretary for Preparedness George Foresman said the application was not to blame for the funding cuts, adding that a perfect application would have only meant a difference in funding of some 5 to 8 percent. The process, he argued, seeks to identify unknown terror risks elsewhere in the country.
"Other urban areas have higher risk than previously understood," Foresman said.
The mayors found a mostly sympathetic audience in the House committee. Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., repeated his charge that the move was "a stab in the back to the city of New York."
However, Rep. Norman Dicks, D-Wash., pointed out that New York City has received more than $500 million from the program over the past four years — far more than any other city.
Since the cut was announced, Bloomberg, a Republican, has tried to walk a tight line on protesting the loss without angering official Washington.
On Monday, he warmly greeted President Bush at a New York City airport and blamed Congress for the funding cut. Before Congress on Wednesday, he blamed the Bush administration. After the hearing, he said blame was not the point.
"There's plenty of blame to go around. The object is not to affix blame, the object is to fix the process," he said.