Nevadans fail to boost federal homeland security funding for Las Vegas

WASHINGTON — Southern Nevada lawmakers who charged Las Vegas was shortchanged this year on federal security funding mounted a push Wednesday in Congress to add grant money to a homeland protection bill.

But the proposal was killed 156-268, after House leaders spoke out against it.

An amendment by Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., sought to cut $22 million from administrative accounts in a Department of Homeland Security spending bill, and put that money into accounts that feed state and local security grants.

While the amendment did not say so, Heck said he hoped some amount would be given to Las Vegas, which was shut out this year after its terrorist risk ranking among cities dropped to 33. Only the top 25 cities received money from a pot of $558.7 million.

“Las Vegas, which holds more high-profile, highly attended events than any city in the country, is worthy of UASI funding,” Heck said, referring to the Urban Area Security Initiative grants.

But leaders on the House Appropriations Committee from both parties said it should be shelved.

“The grant programs can always use more money but we need to think carefully. This is a risky path for this body to go down,” said Rep. David Price, D-N.C.

The anti-terror grants are awarded based on risk formulas developed by the Department of Homeland Security. “Do we really want to substitute that for picking cities on the House floor?” Price said.

Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., said the homeland security formulas are flawed in ways that underestimate the potential risk to Las Vegas, and damages if the city is hit by a catastrophe.

For instance, the calculations undercount the recovering tourist population, Nevada officials have said. They also fail to acknowledge the close proximity of the Strip mega-resorts to one another and the major convention halls, and the potential harm to national security if a strike occurs near Nellis or Creech Air Force bases.

“It is wrong that Las Vegas has dropped in the rankings and it is wrong that we will face reduced funding because of faulty calculations,” Horsford said during debate.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., voted for the Heck amendment but took an unusual step of raising questions about it on the House floor.

Even if it passed, Titus said there was no guarantee any of the additional money would go to Las Vegas. At the same time, she said, cuts to salary accounts could threaten security programs run by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Nevada representatives in Washington, Carson City and Clark County have been in talks with the Department of Homeland Security about adjusting the risk formulas and possibly recovering some grant money this year for Las Vegas.

Titus, whose district includes downtown Las Vegas and the Strip, said officials are making progress with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and the failed amendment was “just a blip.”

“We’ll go forward with what we’ve been working on,” Titus said. “The people who know how the process works and the real problem with the formula will continue to work on that.”

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.