Sec. Chertoff has an op-ed in the New York Times today headlined “New York, You’re Still No. 1” that defends the Department of Homeland Security’s decisions on homeland security grants. In the column, he makes the same litany of points that he’s been making since last week:
- NYC is still #1 in funding;
- Total funding was cut this year by Congress;
- This isn’t really a cut, since it’s consistent with the three-year average for NYC;
- UASI funds are really for investment, not operating expenses;
- Helping other cities helps NYC;
- The ‘NYC has no monuments’ line is somewhat misleading; and
- We peer-reviewed the results with outside experts.
All these talking points are factually correct – but they’re also largely beside the point. I’ve expressed concern about the decisions that DHS made primarily based on three complaints: (1) material problems with data quality, (2) the need for subjectivity when you’re talking about NYC and DC, given the extent to which they are vastly more at risk than any other American cities; and (3) the way in which the DHS explanation for NYC belittles the world-class capabilities of the NYPD. As Brookings scholar Michael O’Hanlon noted in the WSJ over the weekend, “rather than blame New York for a purportedly poor grant application, as some DHS officials have done this week, we should be praising the city for progress in homeland security efforts to date — and asking other cities to emulate the Big Apple.”
Sec. Chertoff doesn’t really address these issues in his piece. I like Chertoff, and I know that he’s in a difficult spot on this issue, stuck between the wrath of the NY congressional delegation if he stands firm and charges of politicization and a negative reaction from other cities if he changes the allocation. Nevertheless, I think he needs to get out of PR mode and acknowledge that this decision did not live up to his own high standards for risk management, discuss the unique nature of NYC and DC in the nation’s risk profile, and listen to constructive criticism about how to improve the allocation process.