New Jersey's Kean Challenges Incumbents on Homeland Security Funding

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:31pm EDT

( - New Jersey has been shortchanged on homeland security assistance from the federal government because its incumbent U.S. Senators "gave up" and yielded to a flawed funding formula, according to Republican state Sen. Tom Kean Jr.

A risk-based funding formula that accounts for the unique vulnerabilities of states like New Jersey would produce a sufficient level of financial assistance said Kean, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) in this year's election.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C., the federal government has awarded about $8 billion in assistance to states and localities so they can better equip themselves in the realm of counter-terrorism, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Most recently, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the distribution of approximately $400 million in grants that would be used to bolster the security of ports, transit systems and intercity bus systems.

Kean argues that the risk of terrorist strikes in New Jersey is more acute than it is in other parts of the country because of the state's proximity to high-profile targets in neighboring cities like New York and Philadelphia. He also said his state's infrastructure makes it an enticing target in the eyes of terrorists.

Kean points out, for example, that the Port Newark/Elizabeth Marine Terminal is the largest on the East Coast, absorbing more than $110 billion in cargo in more than 2 million shipping containers.

This assessment of state's particular set of vulnerabilities is shared by the Menendez campaign. The senator's website quotes federal officials who describe the region between Newark Airport and Port Elizabeth as "the most dangerous two miles in America." The area is laced with chemical plants and open ports.

Brian Fallon, a spokesman for the Menendez campaign, said the Democratic senator has been an ardent supporter of "risk-based funding" that takes into account those areas of the country that pose a particularly high risk of terror attacks.

But Kean claims his opponent actually allowed the "risk-based" formula to be removed, to the detriment of New Jersey.

"Bob Menendez sat on the [House-Senate] conference committee that allowed the risk-based funding formula to be stripped out of homeland security grants," Kean said. "This means the funding formula was instead based on a geographical spread so every state gets a minimal amount. But this approach hurts states like New Jersey that are high-risk targets."

Kean claims that both Menendez and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the state's senior senator, are responsible for allowing the emergence of a funding formula that does not recognize the strategic position of New Jersey.

"New Jersey now gets less per capita spending for homeland security than Wyoming," Kean said. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the union, while Wyoming, by contrast, is the least populous state. Nevertheless, the Kean campaign claims Wyoming receives nearly four times more per person in federal-to-state counterterrorism grants than New Jersey.

The purpose of the conference committee was to resolve divergent approaches to homeland security funding in the House and Senate. Kean faults both Menendez and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the state's senior senator for failing to secure results that would benefit New Jersey.

"They [Menendez and Lautenberg] were sent in to resolve the differences and gave up," Kean said.

Jarrod Agen, a spokesman for DHS, said a "shift" in the funding formula for homeland security grants took place in 2006. The formula now measures critical infrastructure such as bridges, tunnels, chemical plants, office buildings and population.

"As the department has matured, we are getting more information," Argen said.

Repeated phone calls to the Menendez campaign seeking comment on Kean's specific allegations about the senator's role in the conference committee were not returned.

Menendez served in the House of Representatives prior to being appointed as U.S. Senator in January to fill the seat Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) vacated to become the state's governor.

While Menendez served in the House, he introduced legislation to implement all 41 recommendations of the 9/11 commission, but the measures stalled because of Republican opposition, according to his campaign.

Kean's father, Tom Kean Sr., was co-chairman of the 9/11 commission.

Fallon, the campaign spokesman for Menendez, said the incumbent senator, contrary to what has been said by his opponent, has placed a strong emphasis on counter-terrorism. For instance, Fallon points out that Menendez has been a long-time advocate for measures that would enable government officials to inspect 100 percent of cargo containers coming into the U.S.

"Right now, only 5 percent are inspected," Fallon said. "This means only 1 out of every 20 containers are inspected are inspected for security purposes."

Information made available through the office of Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) shows that the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 was "hatched" in New Jersey by terrorists who taken up temporary residence there.

Furthermore, "Islamic radicals" who were planning attacks on the Holland Tunnel, Lincoln Tunnel, Federal Plaza and the United Nations were all apprehended in New Jersey, Smith's office said.

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