The New Yorker's Talk of the Town this week has a fascinating piece on how pathetic and bureaucratic Homeland Security's response to 9/11 has been in terms of funding local responders:
Lawmakers decided that forty per cent of the money would be divided equally among the states, without regard to their needs or the likelihood that they would ever be attacked. The rest of the money was left for the Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, to disburse. He, too, declined to distribute funds on the basis of risk, deciding instead to follow the politically more expedient path of making awards solely on the basis of population. Taken together, the two sets of rules have had the perverse effect of actually penalizing New York. On a per-capita basis, the state currently ranks forty-ninth out of fifty in antiterror funding; while Wyoming receives $38.31 per person, New York gets $5.47.
Perhaps not surprisingly, some communities have had trouble coming up with credible uses for the windfalls they’ve received. Officials in Colchester, Vermont, for example, used their funds to buy a fifty-eight-thousand-dollar search-and-rescue vehicle capable of boring through concrete, to be used in case of a building collapse. The tallest building in Colchester—population eighteen thousand—has four stories.
Bellevue, Washington, spent three hundred and sixteen thousand dollars to buy a bomb truck and a robot that can sniff out explosives. Last summer, when the Martha’s Vineyard Steamship Authority received nearly a million dollars to upgrade port security, the harbormaster in the town of Oak Bluffs told the Vineyard Gazette,“Quite honestly, I don’t know what we’re going to do, but you don’t turn down grant money."
Meanwhile, a second federal program, created to correct the deficiencies of the first, has foundered on much the same shoals. Under this program, funds were specifically earmarked for “high threat, high density” areas, and initially the money was divided among seven cities. More and more cities were added to the list, including such “high threat” municipalities as Fresno, Baton Rouge, and Columbus, Ohio.
I understand that terrorists can strike anywhere at anytime, but this seems ridiculous to me. There are obviously higher-profile targets (such as the Golden Gate Bridge) than others. If President Bush, John Ashcroft, and Tom Ridge can spend half their time in the press warning of us of terror, why can't they spend the rest of it sorting out a rational funding scheme to actually protect us?