New York City would likely have to cut in half the staff of its Office of Emergency Management and the NYPD would put off buying new radiation detection boats and adding more bomb-sniffing dogs if a $90 million federal cut stands, officials said Wednesday at a news conference that prompted a White House official to take swipes at Sen. Chuck Schumer.
“We have to be more vigilant than ever,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at the news conference also attended by NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other officials. “That is why this federal support is crucial.”
Bratton agreed cuts to funding from the Department of Homeland Security weakens security. “It is indefensible for the federal government at this time to propose not only cuts, but extraordinary cuts in homeland security,” the police commissioner said.
The officials railed against the cuts at a time when the threat from the Islamic State terror group, know as ISIS or ISIL, has grown.
“A $90 million cut is unconscionable,” Bratton said. He added cuts would also impact other areas of the country. “We cannot let these cuts stand.”
But at a White House briefing Wednesday afternoon, Obama press secretary Josh Earnest didn’t mince words in his criticism of Schumer and others at the news conference. “They didn’t let the facts in the matter have an impact on the scheduling of this event,” he said.
“At some point, Sen. Schumer’s credibility in talking about national security issues, particularly when the facts are as they are when it relates to Homeland Security, have to be affected by the position that he’s taken on other issues,” Earnest said, pointing to Schumer’s opposition to the deal keeping nuclear weapons from Iran. “He was wrong about that position, and most of his Democrats disagree with him in taking that position. And when people look at the facts here, when it comes to funding Homeland Security, they recognize that he’s wrong this time, too.”
He said President Obama’s investment in protecting New York and other communities is “ironclad.”
“Right now in the DHS funding that is provided to New York, there is $600 million that’s sitting in that account,” he said, and another $255 million was going to be added to the account this year. “This year’s contribution into that account is almost twice as much as New York officials have spent out of that account over the last two years combined.”
The NYPD responded later Wednesday. “We stand fully behind the Police Commissioner, Mayor, and Senator’s earlier statement. The administration’s current budget reduces our federal terrorism funding by half, with real impact to New Yorkers who live in the country’s top terrorist target,” Stephen P. Davis, the deputy commissioner of public information, said in a prepared statement Wednesday night.
Schumer first spoke out last weekend about a nearly 50 percent cut to the Urban Area Security Initiative funding and Wednesday teamed up with other officials to underscore the harm they believe would occur if the cuts stand. Schumer said there was still time for the cuts proposed by the White House to be reversed.
The proposed fiscal 2017 budget would slice urban security funding nationwide from $600 million to $330 million, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said in a separate interview with Newsday. The effect would be to cut the city’s funds by $90 million, officials said.
An Obama administration official who didn’t want to be named said that between fiscal 2013 and fiscal 2015 New York — both city and state — received more than $759 million in all kinds of Homeland Security grants and that $620 million remained unspent. But King said that almost all the urban security money has been obligated for spending and that in some cases the city is waiting for approval from the Department of Homeland Security to spend the cash.
The federal budget tussle over city counterterrorism funding has occurred in the past, particularly in fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2011, Schumer said. The explanation from the White House for the cuts was that a lot of the urban security funding had not been spent, a justification that is being used again, noted Schumer.
“That is true: when you buy complicated machinery, not all the money is spent in year one,” Schumer said.
Schumer said the White House explanation was a “bureaucratic trick” for budget purposes.
“I think some bureaucrat came up with this idea and it rose up to a top level without it being stopped — now it’s our job to stop it,” Schumer said.