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06/02/2006

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matt

Am I just an enormously dense chump for feeling at least partially convinced by some of Chertoff's arguments on this subject? I worry, since my knee-jerk is telling me to be pissed, but for once a compelling, rational, cogent defense came out of someone on the Bush cabinet.

First, I was convinced by the argument that the prior two years of funding were intended to beef up security in NYC, and that once that was complete it was necessary to fan out to address other issues of national infrastructure (water supply, food supply, electrical grids, etc).

Also, the "New York has no national icons" issue sounds like it's actually more nuanced than it would seem at face value. According to DHS, something registered as a "national icon" or "historic monument" actually garners fewer points in the rubric for funds allocation than does a "skyscraper office complex" (which is how the Empire State Building was categorized), and so even though it may ruffle some New Yorker's feathers to learn that they have no national icons (which they don't, since everyone on this side of the Hudson knows New Jersey can proudly call the Statue of Liberty ours, anyway), they apparently made out better when it came to funding than they would have had the Empire State Building and others been deemed historic.

Now, I can't speak to the other half of the issue -- namely, just what in particular makes Louisville or Omaha need anti-terror funding -- but on these points, at least, I'm willing to give the DHS a pass.

Adam Thurschwell

Matt, since I prefer not to offend my already limited readership whenever I can avoid it, please don't consider yourself a dense chump on my account! I didn't know about the icon vs. skyscraper categorization (and neither did at least a few NY officials, who mentioned the Empire State Building when complaining about the DHS grant). As for your other point, I almost went into this in the post but decided I didn't have the expertise to pull it off. But since you asked . . . .

It seems to me (in my ignorance, perhaps) that part of the problem NYC faced with DHS was a variety of the Republican private-sector bias that's infected so many other of this Administration's decisions. Chertoff's characterizations of the policy decision at issue -- one of sound "investments" aimed at maximizing the "returns" on those investments -- is one sign of this. In fact, at the press conference announcing the new grant process, Chertoff seemed to say in answer to a reporter's question that one half of the decision was based on the evaluation of the applicant's "investment justification." The rationale for this kind of screening mechanism is unarguable -- Chertoff said it was put in place to avoid having grantee police departments buy themselves nice new leather jackets (i.e., it's an apparently neutral device for avoiding the political pork-barrel boondoggles of prior years' grants) -- but the particular criteria that DHS decided to use seem quite arguable to me. In particular, looking through the NY Times stories, it appears that DHS was looking for ways of funding capitalization strategies -- buying new equipment, new kinds of training, etc. -- that would improve the efficiency of the city's security apparatus. That certainly makes sense if the goal is to make the city a more economically efficient entity. But if the goal isn't first and foremost economic efficiency (however much that is to be wished for also) but the provision of additional security to vulnerable locations, then this criterion seems to me to be misplaced. For example, the city apparently wanted a significant amount of funding money for extended overtime for police and other security personnel -- i.e., additional labor costs that by definition are not going to make the provision of services more efficient. DHS was highly critical of that. But if the best way to provide additional security is to have more security forces in more locations for longer times -- a possibiliity that seems quite plausible to me -- then there's nothing wrong with this proposal at all. Of course it's entirely incompatible with the DHS "investment" model, because it makes it impossible simply to give a city a bunch of money one year and then tell them the next year that that's all they get, because labor costs are continuing (which of course is why private profit-making entities want to eliminate them). (And in fact, DHS received so much criticism for its "start-stop" funding policy that another change they made for this year was to include some otherwise ineligible cities this year as eligible for transition grants.) So my (again, possibly economically naive) point would be in response to the notion that two years of funding ought to be enough, is that that's not necessarily the case when you're talking about labor-intensive government services, of which local security services would be a prime example. In short, whether it's politics of the red state/blue state variety (NY politicians are beginning to focus their ire on an anonymous, "geographically diverse" advisory DHS advisory board) or of a slightly more sophisticated private ordering vs. public ordering kind, this funding decision looks political to me.

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