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U.S. adjusts rules for anti-terrorism grants

WASHINGTON—The Homeland Security Department announced Tuesday that 35 urban areas are eligible for $765 million in special anti-terrorism grants because of their high risk of attack and added new rules for allocating the money to force regional cooperation and eliminate wasteful spending.

The regions include Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Charlotte, N.C., Miami, Chicago, Kansas City, Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. Each has 60 days to come up with a proposal for what it would do with the money and justify how the expenditures would improve security.

The "investment justifications" are designed to avoid questionable decisions, such as the purchase of four Segway motorized scooters for a total of $24,815 by the San Jose, Calif., police and Santa Clara County, Calif., bomb squads.

"The fact of the matter is the public has the right to expect that even when the city's in a high-risk category, the money that it gets under this program has to be spent wisely and effectively," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said at a news conference.

The department gauged the risks via a computer evaluation that assessed population, vital infrastructure and frequency of terrorism investigations.

Under the Urban Areas Security Initiative program, begun in 2003, major cities that are close to one another—such as Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington, Texas, and San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland, Calif.—received separate grants. But Chertoff said the widespread impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita helped persuade his department to ignore municipal boundaries in making this year's grants.

"When terrorists plan an attack, the attack is not carefully delineated within the lines of political jurisdictions," he said. "Protecting the country is not about who gets to give the money out or what particular jurisdiction gets to have control over the funds that are being distributed by the federal treasury."

Although the grants are designed to deal with terrorism, Chertoff said his department would consider requests that were helpful in natural disasters as well, such as evacuation plans and interoperable emergency communications.

The method of distributing the money across regions has been criticized.

San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales said it "could be a grave mistake."

In a letter to Chertoff last month, he noted that the San Francisco Bay Area is spread over 8,000 square miles and crosses dozens of jurisdictions.

"Obviously our local plans and resources must be coordinated among all levels of government with our neighbors," Gonzales wrote. "However, the overly broad combination of different urban centers in the name of efficiency could very likely lead to a lack of efficiency when we need it most."

But Don Parker, the fire chief and disaster manager for Vallejo, a city of about 116,000 at the northern end of the San Francisco Bay Area, said a regional approach was a good idea given the way terrorist attacks could affect surrounding communities.

"If San Francisco suffers a dirty bomb, there's going to be a lot of people leaving San Francisco pretty quickly," Parker said. His city stands to get some funding from the program for the first time.

The 35 high-risk urban areas encompass 95 cities with populations of more than 100,000 and are in 29 states and the District of Columbia. In 2005, 50 cities received $830 million in urban area grants.

The grants are just one part of homeland security funding for state and local governments. In 2006, Congress appropriated $2.5 billion for such grants, with $550 million distributed via formulas.

Homeland security grants have been the focus of a political struggle in Washington. Lawmakers from rural areas prefer formulas that guarantee a specific amount for each state, while those from urban areas want money distributed based on the risk of attack.

The urban security grants aren't dictated by formulas, but Chertoff used Tuesday's announcement to stress that the Bush administration prefers risk-based decisions on all grants.

The department said it intended to drop 11 cities from the program in 2007 after a year of transitional funding—including San Diego, Las Vegas and Tampa, Fla.—as it tried to focus the program on areas with the highest terrorism risk.

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For the list of the 35 urban areas that are eligible, go to:

http://www.dhs.gov/interweb/assetlibrary/FY06(underscore)UASI(underscore)Eligibility(underscore)List.pdf

To read the Homeland Security Department's news release about the program, go to:

http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/interapp/press(underscore)release/press(underscore)release(underscore)0824.xml

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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