Lieberman Urges DHS to Explain Why New Haven, SW Connecticut Are Ineligible for High Risk Homeland Security Grants

Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), Ranking Member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent the following letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff urging him to explain his decision to exclude New Haven and other cities in Southwestern Connecticut from applying for homeland security grants under the Urban Areas Security Initiative Program.

January 30, 2006

Michael Chertoff Secretary of Homeland Security U.S. Department of Homeland Security Washington D.C. 20528

Dear Secretary Chertoff:

I am writing to express my deep disappointment with certain decisions related to implementation of the Urban Areas Security Initiative Program (UASI) announced by the Department on January 3, 2006. Under this program, a total of $765 million is available to select “high threat urban areas” for equipment, training, planning and exercises in FY 2006. In its notification, DHS identified 46 urban areas eligible to apply. This includes 35 areas that were supposedly identified through a risk analysis process based on threat, vulnerability and consequence, and an additional eleven urban areas that received funding under the FY 2005 program but are eligible to apply for what the Department calls “continuation funds” under the FY 2006 program. As you know, I strongly disagree with the Administration’s support for sharp and unwarranted decreases in the overall amount of funding available for UASI and other key programs designed to strengthen state and local preparedness. These cuts and other changes have resulted in states and cities being forced to compete for an ever decreasing amount of homeland security funding. This is not the way to equip our nation with the tools necessary to prevent, prepare for, mitigate and, if necessary, effectively respond to a catastrophe. While I support providing more funding to states and localities based on a determination of risk, I have also expressed my concerns about the credibility of the still evolving “risk” analysis methodology developed by DHS. Risk analysis is an art, not a science; and it is an inexact art at best. Moreover, DHS’s risk methodology has continued to evolve, without any evidence at all that one year’s approach is any more precise or accurate than the previous year. The Department selected New Haven, Connecticut for a UASI grant in FY 2004, but then, using slightly different risk methodology, excluded the area in FY 2005. This year, after implementing the latest version of its risk methodology, the Department has determined that New Haven is not even eligible to apply for funding in FY 2006, a decision that continues to ignore the importance of the critical infrastructure in that area to Connecticut and our nation. Last year, I argued that to adequately plan and prepare, states and localities most need predictable and sustainable levels of funding from the federal government. However, DHS rejected this argument, and refused to reconsider its decision to drop New Haven and other cities from the UASI list. For FY 2006, DHS has decided that 11 cities which otherwise would not be eligible under its “risk” calculations should remain eligible to apply for funding, according to Department staff, because of the need for “sustainability.” You explained that this change was made “to address criticisms we heard last year about the kind of stop-start or start-stop method of funding, where you get a program going in a single year, you couldn’t complete it in a year, and you were left high and dry.” Therefore you decided to provide a “bridging mechanism” to allow UASI communities identified in FY 2005 to “make the case” that they need continued funding in FY 2006. I appreciate your willingness to listen and respond to concerns about this aspect of the UASI program. However, I am dismayed that you have decided to implement this principle only for cities that were awarded UASI grants in FY 2005, and not for those awarded in FY 2004. The denial of UASI funding to New Haven clearly will adversely affect its ability to build the essential capabilities that DHS has determined localities need to keep citizens safe. If the purpose is to give certain cities an opportunity to “make a case” for sustainable funding, how can you justify denying this opportunity to some UASI cities while making it available to others? Finally, I am very disturbed by the Department’s decision to exclude those areas of Connecticut which are in every way part of the New York metropolitan area from participating in the UASI region that will receive and administer funding. This decision defies common sense. In announcing the program, DHS stated that this year’s funding formula represents a “super” UASI concept “that is designed to build greater regional capabilities across a geographic area.” The Department also noted that cities on the UASI list “with shared boundaries” were combined for FY 2006 into “a single entity” and “urbanized areas” outside the official city limits were included in order to establish a geographic area for enhanced risk analysis. This supposedly reflects “a regional approach to shared risk and risk-mitigation.” I agree with the idea that we must focus on regional preparedness. Whenever catastrophe occurs, the impact is felt well beyond the jurisdiction which is at ground zero, and often an effective response requires assets and resources from the surrounding region, and the nation. However, if this is the Department’s current approach, how do you explain the fact that the Department has purposefully excluded communities like Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk and others in southwestern Connecticut, which are widely understood to be a part of the New York metropolitan area, from the UASI region and from UASI consideration? One hundred thousand Connecticut residents commute daily to New York City, and Connecticut, whose train tracks and roads are interconnected with those in New York, must deploy additional assets whenever the terror alert level is raised (or during an actual attack) in New York. Residents of Connecticut clearly form an integral part of this highly interconnected region. According to DHS, the New York City urban area includes the city of New York, counties of Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. This supposedly encompasses New York City, Yonkers and “a 10-mile buffer extending from the border of the combined area.” While that would appear to at least include some areas in southwestern Connecticut, your staff has made it clear to my staff and representatives of the Governor’s office that is not the case at all. The “10-mile” buffer, which appears to have been selected totally arbitrarily, only identifies the geographic areas used to capture data for the UASI area, not the area that will be protected with the subsequent funding. The bottom line is that suburban Connecticut is apparently not considered part of the “natural region” which DHS has clearly centered around New York City. This is astounding news to those citizens. Your staff could not explain why the arbitrary 10-mile designation was made, why it does not extend into Connecticut, or why DHS did not include parts of Connecticut in the New York metropolitan region to which they so clearly belong. Nor could they provide a satisfactory explanation as to why this year’s risk methodology is in fact more accurate than that used in past years. I ask that you do so in response to this letter. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Sincerely, Joseph I. Lieberman Ranking Member