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Seattle funding to fight terror slashed 22%
Seattle Post-Intelligence
June 1, 2006

The federal government is cutting Seattle's share of anti-terrorism funding 22 percent this year -- providing only a fraction of what city officials said the region needed.

Seattle will receive $9.15 million in federal grants this fiscal year, the Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday.

The city received $11.8 million last year and had requested $61.4 million for this year's efforts in the Seattle/Bellevue region.

Meanwhile, Washington state was awarded $32.2 million under a separate program Wednesday -- down 23 percent from last year's $41.9 million. The state had requested $43 million, officials said.

Reaction among local officials was sharply divided.

Emergency and law enforcement agencies, including the Seattle Police Department, sought to cast a reassuring spin. Gov. Christine Gregoire's office fell into that camp.

But most local politicians, including Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels' office, blasted the reductions in grants largely used for training and equipment for emergency first responders.

"The funding is going in the wrong direction. The money isn't following the threat," said Marty McOmber, a Nickels' spokesman, noting the region is home to a port, a number of huge corporations and the Puget Sound ferry system. "Seattle, obviously, should be considered among the cities that there's a potential for manmade and natural disasters."

Only Gulf Coast fuel tankers match the ferry system as the nation's top targets for maritime terrorism, according to an FBI national assessment of seaports released in March.

The region can access other sources of funding for ferry and port protection, said other officials. Plus, the U.S. Coast Guard plays a key role there, added Seattle police Chief Gil Kerlikowske.

In all, the Homeland Security Department announced $1.7 billion in grants Wednesday, down from about $2.3 billion last year. The bulk of that goes to two programs -- one for states and U.S. territories, and one for 46 urban areas.

Three cities were added to the program, but many will get significantly less money. New York City and Washington, D.C., were among the hardest hit -- each cut by 40 percent.

"It's very difficult to draw conclusions from the way the money was allocated," said Doug Carey, assistant director of Seattle's finance department.

"I don't believe that anybody thinks that New York has 40 percent less risk than it did last year," Carey said.

Gregoire's office is "satisfied" with the state's award, given the overall reductions, said Antonio Ginatta, a policy adviser for the governor.

The state uses its money for education, enhanced communications and other collaboration between agencies and improvement of ability to respond to chemical, biological, nuclear or other disasters.

"We have about $3 billion worth of unmet needs -- this is just a portion of it," Ginatta said. "We're definitely not being funded at the level needed.

"But we're doing our best to strategically invest our money to protect the citizens. ... And that's the best we can do with the money that's given to us by the feds."

Last year, Washington ranked 15th in terms of funding within the program for states, added Arel Solie, homeland security section manager for the state emergency management division. This year, the state was bumped to 14th, she said.

"With ... less available nationwide, we were fairly consistent relative to last year's awards," Solie said.

Kerlikowske said the urban reduction would make it more difficult for the region to conduct expensive emergency drills. But the program was already a relatively minor funding source, he said.

"We knew we would get less than we asked for," Kerlikowske said. "The city has done an awful lot on its own. We've actually done, I'd say, 10 times more than what those federal dollars have provided."

This year, 46 cities will share $740 million, down $119 million from fiscal year 2005.

Previously, the city grants were awarded mostly based on cities' populations. That's still a factor.

However, this year the awards were largely based on risk and how effectively the city will use the funds.

State and local officials also need to budget for disaster preparations, Homeland Security Undersecretary George Foresman told reporters in Washington, D.C. The grants are "designed to help us address the extraordinary, not the ordinary," Foresman said.

The federal government won't release the data they use to calculate the awards. "They tell us it's two parts risk and one part effectiveness," Solie said.

Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., said he would convene a classified briefing with Homeland Security officials to review the grant program.

"When you look at the Northwest -- we're on the Canadian border, we have ports and ferries and a past history of intelligence information that shows terrorists have targeted this area -- I have to ask questions," said Reichert, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee's subcommittee on emergency preparedness. "I want to know the facts that led us to believe we don't need as much money as we needed last year."

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., blamed President Bush.

"At a time when we need more security here at home, the Bush administration is offering us less and less," Murray said in a statement.

According to Tracy Henke, Department of Homeland Security assistant secretary for grants and training, the recent findings showing Puget Sound's ferries to be the top maritime terrorist target in the country may not have been taken into account when the state-by-state grant determinations were made.

The decisions as to how much grant funding each state should get were actually made late last year, Henke said in an interview.

Henke said that the information about the ferries could be taken into account when the funding decisions for next year's grants budget are made later this year or early next.

"The dynamics change, and the threats are ever changing," Henke said.

Seattle P-I reporter Sam Skolnik and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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