Antiterrorist Allocations--Posner's Response to Comments
I want to note one particularly acute comment--that awarding grants of federal money to localities on the basis of the "quality" of their grant proposals just rewards skillful grant writers. I think that is probably true. This is not like grant applications for money for scientific research, which are evaluated by distinguished scientists. Counterterrorism is not a science, and the "peers" who reviewed the grant applications for the Department of Homeland Security appear to have been a miscellaneous assortment of persons engaged in emergency response and other security-related activities. The room for subjective, political judgments must have been large.
I also agree with the commenter who criticized me for suggesting that DHS had experienced "political pain" by cutting the allocations for New York City and Washington, D.C. DHS received criticism, but since both NYC and Washington are solidly Democratic, the political pain has been more than offset by the gratitude of cities in states that lean Republican or are toss-ups. Now for all I know politics played no role in th allocations, but the lack of transparency in the "peer review" process makes it difficult to dispel suspicion of political motives.
Commenters debated over whether cities or the federal goverrnment have better information about optimal counterterrorist measures for a given city. Thinking further about that issue, I now incline to the view that the only respect in which a city has the comparative advantage is with respect to measures for gathering information about residents who might be terrorist supporters and for patroling local sites and facilities (like the New York subway system). These information-gathering and patrolman-on-the-beat activities, which incidentally are labor-intensive, are ones for which grants to cities make sense. But when it comes to capital expenditures, such as for radiation and pathogen detectors, radiation shields, communications equipment, and decontamination facilities, the federal government probably has the comparative advantage. Apart from being able to extract price concessioms by buying in bulk, the federal government can assure compatibility across cities where needed (for example, in communications equipment), exploit economies of scale, base expenditures on more sophisticated appreciation of threats and technology, and resist granstmanship and local political pressures. Thus, on reflection, I am inclined to change my mind and conclude that DHS has it backwards in emphasizing grants to cities for capital rather than for personnel expenditures.