Tuesday, June 01, 2004
America deserves better # 19
Following is an excerpt from the 5/31/04 issue of The New Yorker. This is a great example of how intelligently we are being prepared for another terrorist attack. One could fairly say that any other administration would do as badly, but this isn't "any other administration". This is the administration that suffered 9/11, and that touts itself as the true champion, presided over by the true leader, of the war on terror. If this administration hasn't done any better than this, two and a half years after the event, they never will. There is at least some chance that a new administration, learning from this SNAFU, would rectify some of the worst blivets. America deserves better. Replace this administration.
Homeland Security funding:
Washington’s first response to the events of September llth was to recognize them as a national disaster. Politicians from both parties and from all over the country pledged to do everything in their power to help New York and other potential terrorist targets prepare for a second attack- Yet the key appropriations bill didn’t make it to the Senate floor before getting caught up in all the usual pie-slicing considerations. 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 harborrnaster 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. Then, last year, funding for the program was cut. In the process, New York’s share of the money dropped from a hundred and forty-nine million to forty-seven million dollars.
It would probably be a mistake to suppose, on the basis of these figures, that either Congress or the Bush Administration is conspiring, in the Mayor's formulation, to 'screw New York’. The explanation has to do, more prosaically, with the same weaknesses that the 9/11 Commission identified in the city's response to the disaster: habit, inertia, and institutional short-sightedness. In this sense, it's probably good that last week’s hearings were as wrenching as they were, since the natural tendency in politics, as in all things, is to revert to routine. At the same time, until there is an infusion of new resources, it would be naive to expect much more from New York than it is already doing. Timothy Roemer, a former congressman from Indiana, wanted to know, why havn’t the F.D.N.Y. purchased helicopters for conducting rooftop rescues. Scoppetta just laughed. 'Well, where do I sign the requisition?"
-Elizabetb Kolbert. snip