Palm Beach County getting fraction of what others have from homeland security money
By Pat Beall
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Updated: 10:00 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011
Posted: 9:42 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011
In the 10-year, high-stakes scramble for homeland security money, Palm Beach County got stiffed.
Cash earmarked for this region since 9/11 has been a fraction of what other populous counties have shaken loose from Uncle Sam, according to numbers compiled by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Between 2005 and 2010, FDLE records show, Miami-Dade County was allocated $118 million in various forms of homeland security money; $81 million was earmarked for Broward; $80 million for Hillsborough; and $50 million for Orange County – but just $13 million for Palm Beach County.
County emergency management officials take exception to FDLE’s numbers – they say some of the numbers, including Palm Beach County’s, appear to be too high – but they acknowledge that it has been on the short end of a major pot of money divvied up in Southeast Florida.
Yet, with a port, extensive shoreline and major airport, this area long has been considered target-rich . Many of the 9/11 hijackers were linked to Palm Beach County, and Boca Raton was the site about a month later of the anthrax attack that killed a local man.
“I got on my soapbox a lot about that to anyone and everyone who would listen,” said Ken Hern, security director for the Port of Palm Beach. One of the 20 busiest container ports in the United States, it received only $2.8 million in homeland security grant money before this year, when it scored an additional $1.8 million.
There are bright spots. Palm Beach International Airport this year netted a $26.7 million Department of Homeland Security/Transportation Security Administration grant to upgrade its screening and baggage handling .
But when it comes to homeland security grants, the airport’s hefty $26.7 million has been the local exception, state and federal data show.
“Could it be better? Yes, but at this point we are going to settle for what we get and make the best out of it,” said Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, as federal money is siphoned from homeland security grants to other pressing needs, including war. Besides, he said, “nothing is more important” than a broad, regional approach.
Discrepancies in data
Homeland security money started flowing out of Washington in 2002.
It’s been big business ever since. Grants doled out to local communities nationwide total $35 billion. Florida alone has received more than $1.89 billion in the past decade.
Tracking the dollars isn’t an exact science. Streams of security-related money come from sources varying from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the Coast Guard. Further, federal homeland security grant data provided by various Washington agencies do not match FDLE-supplied data, and not all FDLE data match local numbers.
Pattern in numbers
Even the Department of Homeland Security has trouble keeping track of its money : Twice in a row, auditors did not sign off on the agency’s annual financial review, in part because so much information was missing.
Still, state and some federal data point to a continuing pattern of inequity relative to Florida’s other largest counties.
Federal data, which are tracked differently from FDLE data, place Palm Beach County millions of dollars behind Orange County, for example. According to FDLE, over a six-year period Palm Beach County was slated to receive $10.33 per person . By contrast, the average of the state’s other largest counties was more than four times as much: $42.88 per person.
In 2010, Palm Beach County was expected to net $1.91 per person, the FDLE figures show, when the statewide per-person average was more than $6.
Further, between 2007 and 2010 Palm Beach County and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office averaged about 15 cents of every dollar from one major shared pool of grant money, the Urban Area Securities Initiative, or UASI. Until this year, Broward, its sheriff’s office and certain Broward cities shared roughly 85 cents, according to figures compiled by the city of Miramar, which distributed UASI money for Broward and Palm Beach counties.
It was even bleaker this year: The county and the sheriff’s office got a mere 5 percent of the UASI money, while Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties divvied up the rest.
“A giant sucking sound to the south,” said Bill Johnson, director of Palm Beach County’s Division of Emergency Management.
It could be worse. Before 2006, Palm Beach County got nothing.
“It was unfair then and it’s unfair now,” said Republican former U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr., who fought to secure money for the county.
There are dangers in spreading the wealth unevenly, critics warn. If one city has bioterrorism protections, for instance, and another doesn’t, the second town becomes a more tempting target.
“How does society benefit if one city is made more secure but another one isn’t?” said John Mueller, a political science professor at Ohio State University who wrote an upcoming book on terrorism and security costs.
Precisely what goes into the formula for determining who gets how much money is unknown: A key part of the equation is secret. But Matt Mayer, an author and think-tank analyst who once served as acting executive director for Homeland Security’s Office of Grants and Training, has a simple take on allocations at the local level: “Politics hijacked it.”
Not every local grant recipient feels slighted, starting with the sheriff. True, in 2006, Bradshaw railed against homeland security money that was being swallowed up by Miami-Dade. Today, he says, Palm Beach County is better off, even if it doesn’t get the lion’s share of UASI money.
“If you look at Palm Beach as a stand-alone county and just what you need for your county, then it is disproportionate,” said Bradshaw, who chairs Florida’s Southeast Regional Domestic Security Task Force.
But that doesn’t take into account the bigger picture, he said. “If you look at it on a regional basis, the assets Miami-Dade and Broward get are shared. ”
And Bradshaw ticks off the items Palm Beach County has received with anti-terrorism money: an intelligence-gathering center, for instance, and a one-of-its-kind coastal radar system.
Money drying up
Palm Beach County Fire Rescue echoes the regional approach. It has received about $2 million in items over 10 years, including much-needed software to replace a 14-year-old system.
“We don’t need to get equipment for the sake of getting equipment,” said Capt. Don DeLucia, especially if it can be obtained from a neighboring fire department. “That’s why we have not gone out for a lot of (grants) we could have.”
That runs counter to tradition, said Ohio State’s Mueller.
“From time to time, the chief goal of local governments has been to extract as much money from Washington as possible,” he said.
Locals may have to make do with what they have. Washington budget cuts have taken hold.
“The faucet flow has really slowed,” DeLucia said.
“With a reduction of grant funds and the same number of organizations fighting for the money, competition goes up,” pointed out Palm Beach County’s Johnson. Grants, he said, “are a very tough business.”
Staff researcher Michelle Quigley and staff writers Charles Elmore and Adam Playford contributed to this story.
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