WASHINGTON - Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had a tough response Friday to those griping that New York gets too little federal anti-terror money: City agencies, she said, still haven't spent $275 million in port and transit security grants from the past four years.
The stunning revelation was made by Napolitano in a letter sent late Friday to Rep. Pete King (R-Seaford) and intended for Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other New York lawmakers who have been complaining in the two weeks since the Times Square bomb attempt about paltry funding.
The letter, obtained by Newsday, set off another round of finger-pointing: King blamed federal red tape at the Department of Homeland Security for the slow spending, and a DHS official rejected that complaint.
The letter came too late in the day for many New York agencies to respond.
In the letter, Napolitano said DHS is committed to New York's security, insisted this year's overall total funding of $245 million is 24 percent higher than last year, and added that it's on top of previous grants that remain unspent.
"We are concerned, however, that more than $275 million in federal funding for New York City's port and transit security since 2006 has not yet been drawn down," Napolitano wrote. "In fact, New York has yet to draw down on any of the transit funding it received last year."
A DHS official said the $275 million is port and transit security grant money that was sent to New York State to distribute to local agencies.
Those larger funds are often broken into small grant amounts that local agencies then bid, propose to the state and then contract. The spending often is delayed.
New York State Comptroller's Open Book website shows, for example, the Port Authority had not spent funds from a 2007 transit grant for $141,000 and a 2008 transit grant of $663,000.
The Port Authority could not be reached for comment late Friday.
King called the letter a "phony argument" and "a cheap political trick by the Obama administration."
"The fact is that almost all of the money that has not been spent is being held up by the DHS bureaucracy," he said. "For instance, $36 million to harden the Path Tunnel has been delayed since at least 2008 by FEMA's environmental planning and historic preservation review because the tunnel is more than 50 years old."
A Homeland Security official denied that FEMA was holding up the spending.
Schumer sidestepped the fight over unspent funds. Instead, he said, "You can slice and dice the numbers any way you want, but the bottom line is, funding is being cut at a time when threats to New York are on the rise."