The Department of Homeland Security expects to provide $1.7 billion in state and local grants in 2007 to help fund counter-terrorism programs and protect critical infrastructure. That's less than the amount allocated last year.
According to CBS News correspondent Bob Orr, DHS will funnel almost $900 million to states, with an additional $747 million to be earmarked for cities — and six large urban areas getting the lion's share.
The lists of 45 metropolitan areas eligible from DHS grants differs slightly from last year's. Four cities not eligible last year were added and will receive grants for the first time: El Paso, Texas, and Tucson, Ariz. (due to their proximity to the Mexican border); Norfolk, Va. (close to sensitive military installations); and Providence, R.I.
Four cities, however, were dropped from the list: Toledo, Ohio; Baton Rouge, La.; Louisville, Ky.; and Omaha, Neb.
The agency spared several other cities that were warned in 2006 that they might be cut off. Those spared cities were Las Vegas; Buffalo, N.Y.; Oklahoma City; Tampa, Fla.; San Diego; Sacramento, Calif.; and Phoenix.
"We worked hard to make our case," Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said Thursday on his city remaining eligible. "I'm glad that common sense and merit prevailed over politics."
The Homeland Security Department has come under intense scrutiny for its decisions in the Urban Area Security Initiative, or UASI, which is the only pool of federal money designed to go to localities based solely on their risk of terror attacks.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, cities like New York and Washington have received the lion's share of UASI money, but city officials protested furiously last May when funding for each was cut by 40 percent, while millions of dollars were sent to places like Omaha and Louisville, which are generally considered to face less risk of terrorism.
The actual UASI payments vary widely from place to place, and even year to year. In the 2005 budget year, for example, Los Angeles received $65 million, while Jacksonville, Fla. got $6.9 million.
Following past criticism about the allocation of funds and the questionable classification of sites as possible targets of terrorism (such as a petting zoo near Huntsville, Ala.,), Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the agency looked at different approaches, including spreading money around all areas equally, like peanut butter; and giving money to only the highest-risk cities. Chertoff thought neither was the right approach.
"The third approach, and the one we've taken, is to have an appropriate mix," Chertoff said. "Recognize there are a handful of cities that are in the highest-risk category and need to get a disproportionate amount of the resources, but to also recognize there are many other cities that do have a real — albeit perhaps somewhat lesser — risk and to make sure those cities are equipped with the basic tools to protect their populations."
Some in Congress want funds to be distributed based solely on risk.
The grants this year come with two big changes, as reported by Orr: First, cities will be able to use up to 25 percent of their homeland grant money to cover personnel expenses, if those expenses directly relate to counter-terrorism. (A good example would be New York City's Hercules Team — street-level, self-conscious displays of force aimed at deterrence of terrorist acts.)
This reallocation of funds, says Orr, is an effort by Homeland Security to build more flexibility into its program; in the past, cities have complained that money has too many strings attached and is too targeted to equipment.
Secondly, the unwieldy list of so-called "critical infrastructure targets" has been greatly reduced, from more than 80,000 sites nationwide to about 2,100. The list is classified, but it includes bridges, tunnels, power plants, chemical plants, dams and the like.
This year several major metropolitan areas — New York/New Jersey, Los Angeles/Long Beach, Washington, DC/Capital Region, Chicago, San Francisco Bay area and Houston — will share 55 percent of the city money, or about $411 million.
Unlike last year, when New York City was allocated funds separately from Northern New Jersey, both will be lumped together.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Thursday he was concerned New York might be put at a disadvantage by having to split its share of funding with northern New Jersey.
"This could spell trouble. If they give out one pot of money to two areas, we cannot let that translate into fewer dollars," said Schumer.
Cities are just now beginning the application process, and it won't be known how much each will get until May.
The UASI list also does not include a smaller, separate pot of grant money to protect urban infrastructure, like public transit systems. An announcement on that money is expected next week.
The new Democratic majority in Congress, sworn in Thursday, has pledged to revise grant spending to distribute billions of federal anti-terror grants based on risk. The House is expected to take up such legislation next week as part of a package based on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.