Congressman Bill Pascrell

Representing the 9th District of NEW JERSEY

A Chronic Lack Of Common Sense In Facing Terror

Jun 15, 2006

There can be no doubt that New York City and Washington, D.C., are among the leading contenders for a future terrorist attack. Likewise, it is evident to most experts that al Qaeda maintains a fervent determination to carry out colossal assaults - the kind that are possible only in a small number of major U.S. cities. So it makes sense for the federal government to focus its anti-terrorism grant money on the areas that are most at risk. At least it makes sense to us. The Department of Homeland Security, however, has shown that it is completely baffled by this prudent, practical concept.

There is no logical explanation for why New York City and Washington must endure a 40 percent cut in homeland security funding this year. There is no sound reason that money for such critical functions as first responder training, counter-terrorism, bio-terror detection and communications equipment for emergency managers must be severely reduced in these cities.

And it's not just New York and Washington that must now compromise resources to protect their residents. Major cities across the Northeast - with the notable exception of Newark - all experienced funding cuts. Boston, the point of origin for two jetliners that crashed into the World Trade Center, had funds slashed by 30 percent. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Baltimore saw significant reductions as well.

Many of these decisions hurt even those areas where the Department of Homeland Security seemed to have it right. For example, the needed increase in funds to North Jersey is welcomed, but it doesn't come close to making up for the $83 million cut to New York City. We represent districts just outside of New York City, and we have thousands of constituents who commute into New York to work every day. Another terrorist strike in New York would have devastating consequences for the entire tristate area, as our region is inextricably linked to the city. Increasing funding to Newark and Jersey City, from $19 million to $34 million, while slashing funding to New York, from $207.5 million to $124 million, does little to make our region safer.

Indeed, as more facts come to light about the process involved in making these decisions, it becomes abundantly clear that the Department of Homeland Security suffers from a chronic lack of common sense. In its initial review, the department concluded that New York City has "zero" national icons and that Washington is at "low risk" of a terrorist attack. This defies reason and reality and shows that the department is failing to fulfill its obligation to defend our nation.

Time and time again, we see that the judgment of the department and its officials is fatally flawed - and the issues at stake are far too important to let this continue. The Homeland Security Committee has already begun a rigorous investigation of the funding issue, which includes meetings with top-level officials and upcoming hearings. We will continue to fully examine everything the department does, including the issuance of a highly questionable $21 million contract to Shirlington Limousine Co., a transportation company run by a convicted felon and accused of taxiing prostitutes.

Serious threats confront our nation, and we need steady, smart leadership to ensure that the issues we face are tackled in a comprehensive manner. Congress must also finally require that every dime of security money is explicitly allotted on the basis of risk, and obviously we need to ensure that the department's risk analysis is improved.

The Department of Homeland Security can still work, and it must. Protecting our nation is a goal that trumps all others. But for the department to succeed in this regard, we need to re-evaluate the agency's functions and personnel. In the weeks and months ahead, this will be Congress' challenge.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, represents the 8th Congressional District.