President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget would cut $667 million in federal grants to states for security against terrorist threats, a reduction that local officials are certain to fight after Monday’s deadly bombing in Britain spurred fresh questions about U.S. security.
Since 2003, the Department of Homeland Security has doled out billions of dollars to help state and local governments shore up their terrorism prevention and response capabilities.
Trump’s 2018 budget request to Congress targets for reduction the Homeland Security Grant Program, whose three components fund a range of preparedness activities, like equipment purchases, training and planning, among other programs.
According to a Trump budget document explaining the cuts, the grant program “must provide more measurable results and ensure the federal government is not supplanting other stakeholders’ responsibilities.”
“What they’re saying is, ‘This is a state and local responsibility. If you guys are really worried about it in state X or Y, than you should do it,’ ” said Lawrence J. Korb, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress.
Korb said New York had set the example by boosting its anti-terrorist funding after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.
Terrorist attacks on U.S. soil remain rare, but their random nature has attracted a lot of attention – and dollars – since 2001. The U.S. Conference of Mayors said Tuesday that Trump’s proposed cuts to the homeland security grants amounted to a broken promise.
“Throughout the campaign, President Trump vowed to make the country stronger and to keep all Americans safe,” said Tom Cochran, the group’s CEO and executive director. “It’s ironic that the morning after the deadly terrorist attack in Manchester, his budget proposes significant cuts to key homeland security programs, a direct contradiction to what he repeatedly promised.”
On Capitol Hill, where the Manchester bombing was a hot topic Tuesday, Trump found some rare Democratic support from Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
“The federal government is running a huge deficit of $400-plus billion. Most states are not,” Carper said. “Most states are in a surplus situation. That would suggest to me that if there is a need in a particular state to do more to protect against terrorist attacks, maybe (that state) should see if they could appropriate a bit more.”
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was equally unmoved by calls for more anti-terrorism funding.
“I would like to think that we’re doing everything we can right now,” Burr said. “I don’t think we’ve heard the Brits say theirs was a lack of investment. It’s a lack of being to able to identify every soft target in the U.K.”
But Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., also a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee member, said there was no substitute for adequate federal funding because local law enforcement was spread so thin.
“They are responsible for doing a lot of things,” Harris said. “On that point, let’s let local law enforcement do its job and not also have a policy that says they need to do the job of the federal government on issues like immigration enforcement.”
Matt A. Mayer, former acting executive director for the office of grants and training at the Department of Homeland Security, said that rather than buying weapons, vehicles and other equipment, federal anti-terrorism funds would be better spent helping local law enforcement beef up their human intelligence.
“That’s monitoring, surveillance and undercover work,” said Mayer, founder and president of Opportunity Ohio, a conservative think tank focused on state issues.
Mayer, who worked at the DHS under former Secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertow, said federal funding should also help create regional outreach groups that brought together Middle Eastern and Muslim communities with local law enforcement to help ease the misunderstanding and lack of trust that divided them.
“Virtually every case of terrorism that we’ve had here and in Europe, neighbors, relatives and friends knew something was going on and failed to report those things,” Mayer said. “We’ve got to get to a point where moms and dads of these young men, and increasingly women, feel that reaching out to law enforcement will result in help, not handcuffs.”
Because national domestic-security policy is formulated in Washington, state and local stakeholders get to provide input only after the plans are set, Mayer said.
He called for representatives from governors’ offices, local police and mayors’ offices to have seats at the table “to make sure that our national policy is reflective of state and local interests, experience, resources and abilities.”
Whatever the approach, combating terrorism at home will always be difficult, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
“It’s just it’s hard to stop somebody willing to die,” Graham said. “I think the goal is to do what President Trump did: Enlist the Islamic world to push back harder.”
The United States can always provide more funding, “but you’ve got to fight ’em in the mosque. You’ve got to fight ’em in cyberspace. This is really a hearts-and-minds operation here. They’re offering a glorious death. We have to counter with a hopeful life.”