The Homeland Security Department on Wednesday announced almost $3 billion in grants to help state and local communities prepare for a possible terrorist attack. The awards come amid new warnings that the country is facing an increased risk of attack by al-Qaida.
Homeland Security grants are always controversial, because no matter how much money there is, no one ever seems to think it's enough. Last year, the administration got into a lot of hot water for including some questionable terrorist targets in deciding where the funds should go — leaving officials from New York and other high-risk areas fuming.
This year, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the agency considered just a few things, such as population, potential threat and critical infrastructure.
"I want to emphasize, this is not petting zoos, popcorn factories or ice cream parlors. What this is is about 2,000 of the most important infrastructure in this entire country," he said, citing major power plants, switching stations, dams and bridges — "the kinds of things that, if they go out, are going to have regional if not national impact."
The result is that six urban areas — New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Northern New Jersey and Houston — will share $411 million in grants. An additional 36 urban areas will split $336 million. States will split $500 million for things such as training and emergency equipment.
Chertoff said the goal is to have most of the money go to those areas that face the greatest risk: "But also not neglect to recognize that risk is actually distributed somewhat more widely than in four or five cities or four or five states."
That's where the department always seems to run into trouble. Despite increases in this year's grants, officials from New York and Washington, D.C., say they're still not getting enough. They point to much higher awards two years ago, and the fact that they're undisputed targets for attack.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also said he's very concerned about a 10 percent cut in his city's grant.
"At a time when al-Qaida is documented to be on the rise, resurging, Los Angeles — as one of the three most significant targets of opportunity — needs to have the resources to fight that threat and protect its citizens," he said.
City officials said they'll have to scale back counterterrorism efforts unless they find other funds.
There were also some winners. Doug Adkinson handles homeland security grants for Harris County, Texas, where Houston is located. The region is getting $9 million more than it received last year.
"There's never enough money, I understand that," he said. "Certainly, there are great needs in the Northeast, New York, Washington. But we have them here, too. I mean, we have a ship channel here, with a lot of industry, a lot of vulnerability."
He said an attack on nearby oil refineries would have serious repercussions for the entire country. The Houston region will use the money for more video surveillance cameras, a regional intelligence center and better communications equipment.
Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff noted that high-risk areas will also get to share in another $1 billion program, announced on Wednesday, to help states improve the ability of first responders to communicate in a crisis.
As for those unhappy with Wednesday's results, Chertoff said, if someone has a better way to distribute the money, he'd be happy to hear about it.