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Mayor de Blasio Testifies Against Cuts to Vital Anti-Terror Funding

March 15, 2016

Mayor: We can’t afford to reduce our commitment to public safety at a time threats are increasing

Congress must act to protect against cuts – and protect the safety and economic vitality of NYC and nation

WASHINGTON, D.C.––Testifying before a key congressional committee on anti-terrorism funds, Mayor Bill de Blasio said today proposed cuts to homeland security grant programs will not only jeopardize the safety of 8.5 million New Yorkers and nearly 60 million tourists each year but also will threaten security for the world’s epicenter of economic finance and foreign relations – Wall Street and the United Nations.

“New York City is the number one terror target. We invest heavily in counter-terrorism ourselves. For every one dollar the federal government invests, New Yorkers invest one dollar. We cannot afford as a city or a nation to reduce our commitment to public safety at a time when threats are increasing – in both number and complexity,” said Mayor de Blasio testifying before the U.S. House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications.  

“So I ask you, no matter where you come from: take bold action to ensure the safety of cities across our nation and fully fund UASI. This is tantamount to protecting not just the safety and economic vitality of New York City, but that of our region and the nation as a whole. It is essential – not just to the 8.5 million Americans that call New York City home – but to all Americans.”

The Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) program provides funding to address the unique needs of high-threat, high-density urban areas, and to assists these localities in building sustainable capacity to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to and recover from acts of terrorism. The President’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget proposed a national funding level of only $330 million, an almost 50 percent cut from the $600 million in Fiscal Year 2016.

Mayor de Blasio also praised New York Congressman and Chair of the Subcommittee Dan Donovan for his hard work to keep New Yorkers safe. 

“I appreciate your partnership and value your support to ensure New York City remains the safest big city in the country,” said Mayor de Blasio.

The full testimony as entered into the Congressional Record can be found below. 

Testimony of Mayor Bill de Blasio,
The City of New York 

House Committee on Homeland Security

Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications Subcommittee

“State of Emergency: The Disaster of Cutting Preparedness Grants” 

March 15, 2016 - 10:00AM

Good morning Chairman Donovan, Ranking Member Payne and members of the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications. My thanks to the entire Subcommittee for giving me the opportunity to speak with you about the importance of homeland security funding for America’s cities.

While I can only speak for New York City specifically, I know the 27 other areas selected as Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) recipients consider these dollars to be absolutely essential to keeping their people safe. My message is simple and urgent: we need Congress to do its part to protect New York City and the United States from terror and other major security threats. That is why I am deeply concerned about the proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budget cuts to UASI.

Of the Fiscal Year 2014 and Fiscal Year 2015 allotment, New York State has roughly $600 million in UASI and State Homeland Security Grant Program funds. New York City represents $311 million of these, the entirety of which have already been allocated to keeping our region safe. Under the Fiscal Year 2017 proposal, we are facing a 50 percent national level cut to $330 million. New York City’s allocation would likely be halved as well. We cannot afford as a city or a nation to reduce our commitment to public safety at a time when threats are increasing – in both number and complexity.      

And let us be clear, it is not just funding year-to-year that matters here. Continuity over time is vital to keeping us safe. Preparations require planning. For example, our counter-terrorism assets such as ambulances, helicopters and fire boats were carefully designed and built for our needs.

Before the tragic events of 9/11, and since that terrible day, New York City has statistically been the number one most targeted city in the United States and one of the most targeted cities in the world. Since 2001, we have thwarted 20 terrorist plots against New York City. We have prevented four such plots in the past two years alone. This heightened environment is widely recognized. The same week these cuts were announced, the Director of National Intelligence testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the threat from Al-Qaeda and ISIL was now more layered and complex than any other time since 9/11. And in addition to manmade threats, New York has faced natural dangers – including Hurricane Irene and Super Storm Sandy, Ebola, Legionella and the Zika virus.

Many of these challenges extend beyond the five boroughs. The UASI allocation for the New York City area includes Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Yonkers, with additional funds for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. We are the nation’s largest metro area, with a population of about 20 million people, close to 60 million tourists annually, and more than half a million hard-working Americans who commute into our city each day. For context, the number of commuters we receive daily is almost equal to the entire population of Baltimore, Maryland.

Our nimble and complete action to prevent threats from striking and to respond quickly and effectively in the event they do, depends on the resources provided by UASI. I would like to take you through just some of the ways that UASI helps us both prevent terror and be ready to meet it head-on with the most vigorous, proactive and sophisticated response possible. And I want to acknowledge the extraordinary and tireless efforts of the brave men and women from a number of agencies who protect New York City – and clearly illustrate just how important UASI funding is to their work.

Every day, New York City has thousands of professionals on the ground constantly monitoring and working to prevent acts of terror. It is a never-ending endeavor that permeates every corner of our city and it starts with prevention.

For example, UASI provides the entire annual budget for vital programs like the New York Police Department (NYPD) Domain Awareness System. This web of 8,000 cameras – and growing – is linked to a network of license plate readers, radiation detectors and biological sensors that act as an early warning system. We also use UASI funding to employ a number of NYPD’s intelligence research specialists who pore over threat information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

UASI funding supports NYPD’s counter terrorism helicopter specifically outfitted with radiation equipment that scans vessels before they enter New York Harbor to detect the possibility of a nuclear device – for example a dirty bomb hidden in cargo. This helicopter also patrols critical infrastructure that runs across miles of New York City like the Buckeye Pipeline that carries aircraft fuel to John F. Kennedy International airport.

UASI funds pay for vital equipment that allows our Bomb Squad to neutralize suspicious packages and live explosive devices every day. And UASI funds have allowed us to train and deploy a dozen Vapor Wake Explosive Detection K-9s, who can track a suicide bomber moving through a crowd, on the subway or in open spaces like Times Square.

Now, UASI funds are also critical for our preparedness to respond to a crisis as it unfolds.

UASI funding sustains our new 500 officer Critical Response Command, specially-trained police officers assigned full-time to counter-terrorism. The same funds pay for the specially designed NYPD escape masks that every police officer is issued to protect them in the event of a chemical attack on our streets and subways. Such a plot – the subway cyanide plot – was already planned by al Qaeda, but was uncovered before it could be launched. And UASI funds support active-shooter tactical training for 3,500 street cops who may have to confront gunmen such as those who stormed the Bataclan Theater in Paris, or the office party in San Bernardino. Our goal is to extend this important training to 20,000 officers.

The New York City Fire Department (FDNY) Counter Terrorism Bureau counts on UASI funds to maintain the special equipment and training that would be used in a Mumbai or Benghazi type attack. It is important to note our fire department is also responsible for the City's ambulances. And Emergency Medical Service (EMS) is a vital part of our response strategy. Fire EMS is using these funds with their police partners to develop and train rescue task forces that can move in and remove the wounded even while an attack may still be in progress. FDNY has also used UASI funds to acquire a fireboat that houses a protective room with Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive air filtration equipment allowing personnel to continue operations even under hazardous conditions. 

The New York City Department of Health uses UASI funding to quickly identify and isolate diseases and acts of bioterror, and subsequently respond with vaccinations and other efforts on a mass scale.

Our Office of Emergency Management (OEM) relies on these funds to equip a state-of-the-art command center that would be the hub of coordinating efforts to maintain operations across multiple city agencies as well as consequence-management in the aftermath of a crisis. OEM also facilitates drills and exercises that keep our agencies at a level of preparedness for a threat that federal officials have characterized as something that is not an "if" but a "when" scenario.

And these are just a few examples. UASI funds have a profound and wide-ranging impact on everything we do to prepare for, prevent, mitigate, and recover from disasters. Since September 11, 2001 New York City has been remarkably successful at staying ahead of those plotting to harm our people and reducing the impact of natural disasters and dangerous diseases. But we shouldn’t be lulled into complacency by our success. What we have been doing for the past 14 years has been nothing short of cutting edge and we cannot afford to let that edge get even slightly dull. We must remember that disaster can strike any time.

We must also remember the effects of a catastrophe in New York City would cause suffering across our entire nation. That’s why after the September 11th attacks we saw the DOW drop more than 600 points, the 2001 recession deepen, and the beginning of the War on Terror, which has cost the U.S. close to $2 trillion so far.

New York City is a target because it is our largest city; a major port of entry; a hub for air, sea, rail and road transportation; a capital of the United States economy; a globally recognized symbol of democracy; and one of the world’s most visited places. We are proud to host large audiences at events such as the United Nations General Assembly, the recent visit of the Pope, our annual Thanksgiving Day parade, the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting Ceremony and our New Year’s Eve celebration, and we are equally proud to have successfully kept everyone safe.

Before concluding, I want to note that New York taxpayers are contributing their fair share, investing a great deal of their own dollars to fight terrorism. For example, City funds are equipping every single one of our 36,000 police officers with a smartphone that will allow them to instantly receive terrorism alerts. That will, in effect, give us 36,000 counter-terrorism officers when we need them. Additional investments include vehicles, helmets shields and other equipment for counter terror personnel, our shot spotter gunshot detection system that will isolate a gun related incident across 60 square miles citywide and the operations budget for the NYPD Harbor Unit that patrols our vast coastline. But we simply can't maintain this posture without help from the federal government.

Until now, we have been able to rely on the federal government to be a true and strong partner. Today, we need that partnership to continue. As elected officials, our primary and most sacred obligation is to ensure the safety of those we serve.

That is as true in your districts as it is everywhere in our nation. So I ask you, no matter where you come from: take bold action to ensure the safety of cities across our nation and fully fund UASI. This is tantamount to protecting not just the safety and economic vitality of New York City, but that of our region and the nation as a whole.

It is essential – not just to the 8.5 million Americans that call New York City home – but to all Americans.

Again, I thank you for the opportunity to testify on this critical matter.