Does it make sense that Wyoming, rated as “low risk” for terrorist attack, should get almost twice the funding for preparadness programs, on a per capita basis, as New York? The independent commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks recommended more than a year ago that all homeland-security money be allocated based on objective criteria–the risk of attack.
This issue is being debated in Congress now–in a House-Senate conference committee, and it is an excellent example of the different interests of the two chambers of the US Congress.
This is a fascinating case, because both chambers are controlled by the same party. Yet the legislative preferences on this matter break down in a completely predictable way, based on the constituencies of the chambers.
The Senate passed a bill that would share about 75% of all homeland security funds equally between the 50 states, with the other 25% allocated according to a state’s actual assessed risk of terrorism.
The House, on the other hand, passed in July an amendment to the Patriot Act that would do almost the exact opposite. Under the House plan, 25% would be allocated equally between the states, and even to get that share, a state would have to prove why the money was needed. Most of the funds would be based on assessment of risk.
(The assessment of risk would be based on calculating potential insured losses.)
Representative Nita Lowrey (Democrat, New York), the author of the amendment to the bill that the House passed, says:
The current formula is distributed as pork barrel, the same amount to everybody, no matter what, and it doesn’t make sense. New Yorkers are not very pleased about being No. 1, but if we are No. 1 in the risk/threat/vulnerability category, we clearly should get the resources so that we can be prepared.
Senator Craig Thomas (Republican, Wyoming) counters that his state has a lot of energy production “that involves a substantial Homeland Security risk.”
Lowrey notes that is a valid argument, and points out that the amended House bill would allow Wyoming to make that case and receive the funds if they are indeed merited.
Good case in programmatic vs. particularistic policy-making, and in House vs. Senate constituencies!
(The above information comes from an article by Alexandra Marks in the Christian Science Monitor on October 24.)