Theory and Society

, Volume 39, Issue 5, pp 503–525 | Cite as

Of risk and pork: urban security and the politics of objectivity

  • Andrew LakoffEmail author
  • Eric Klinenberg


This article focuses on the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) controversy as a case study in the politics of risk assessment. It examines struggles among diverse actors–think tank experts, journalists, politicians, and government officials–engaged in the contentious process of establishing a legitimate definition of risk. In the field of homeland security, the means of conducting rational risk assessment have not yet been settled, and entrepreneurial officials from urban and regional governments use different techniques to identify local risks and vulnerabilities. In this contentious process, federal bureaucrats are responsible for determining how to allocate resources fairly and rationally to different cities and metropolitan regions, given that local officials have clear incentives to request funds and little cause to refrain. Although “rationality” is supposed to replace “politics” in making bureaucratic decisions over the allocation of resources, what we find instead is a political struggle over how to define, measure, and manage risk. For political actors, victory in debates over urban security comes from codifying one’s interests within the technical practice of risk assessment.


Homeland security Objectivity Rationality Risk assessment Risk 



The authors thank the New York University Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and the NYU International Center for Advanced Study for funding this research, and the Fritz Institute for additional support. Mark Treskon provided excellent research assistance. Stephen Collier, Steven Epstein, Gil Eyal, Ted Porter, Akos Rona-Tas, Mitchell Stevens, and Caitlin Zaloom offered helpful comments on early drafts of the article, as did members of the NYU Urban Studies Seminar, the UCSD Culture Workshop, and members of the audience at an American Sociology Association panel on Risk.


  1. Adut, A. (2008). On scandal: moral disturbances in society, politics, and art. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Amadae, S. M. (2003). Rationalizing capitalist democracy: The cold war origins of rational choice liberalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  3. Baker, A., & Santora, M. (2004). First steps and first controversies for state security agency. New York Times. February 14.Google Scholar
  4. Barrett, D. (2007). U.S. worried about homegrown terrorists. Associated Press, January 5.Google Scholar
  5. Barry, D. (2003). The bull’s-eye vs. The pork barrel. New York Times. November 19.Google Scholar
  6. Beck, U. (1999). World risk society. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  7. Carafano, J. J., & Heyman, D. (2004). DHS 2.0: Rethinking the Department of Homeland Security. Heritage Foundation and Center for Strategic and International Studies Joint Report. December 13.Google Scholar
  8. Chan, S. (2007). Bloomberg Criticizes Security Fund Distribution. New York Times. January 9.Google Scholar
  9. Chertoff, M. (2005). Testimony by Secretary Michael Chertoff Before the House Homeland Security Committee. Department of Homeland Security. April 13.
  10. Chertoff, M. (2006). New York, You’re Still No. 1. New York Times. June 7.Google Scholar
  11. Chertoff, M. (2007). Remarks by Secretary Michael Chertoff at a Press Conference on the Fiscal Year 2007 Homeland Security Grant Program. Department of Homeland Security. Office of the Press Secretary. January 5.
  12. Chertoff, M. (2008). Remarks by Secretary of Homeland Security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Homeland Security Strategy Forum. March 20. Accessed September 30, 2008.
  13. Collier, S. J., & Lakoff, A. (2007). Distributed Preparedness: The Spatial Logic of Domestic Security in the United States Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 25.Google Scholar
  14. de Rugy, V. (2006a). Is Your Town Safe From Terrorists? Reason Online. June 8.Google Scholar
  15. de Rugy, V. (2006b). The Scarcity of Security. American Enterprise Institute. January10.Google Scholar
  16. Department of Homeland Security (2003a). FY 2003 Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) Grant Program I.
  17. Department of Homeland Security (2003b). FY 2003 Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) Grant Program II.
  18. Department of Homeland Security (2006a). DHS Introduces Risk-based Formula for Urban Area Security Initiative Grants. January.
  19. Department of Homeland Security (2006b). Discussion of the FY 2006 Risk Methodology and the Urban Area Security Initiative. Preparedness Directorate, Office of Grants and Training.
  20. Department of Homeland Security (2007). Overview: FY 2007 Homeland Security Grant Program. Office of Grants and Training. January 5.
  21. Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General (2006). Progress in Developing the National Asset Database. OIG-06-40. June.Google Scholar
  22. Eggen, D., & Sheridan, M. B. (2006). Anti-Terror Funding Cut In D.C. and New York: Homeland Security Criticized Over Grants. Washington Post, June 1.Google Scholar
  23. Espeland, W. N. (1998). The struggle for water: Politics, rationality, and identity in the American Southwest. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  24. Espeland, W. N., & Stevens, M. L. (1998). Commensuration as a Social Process. Annual Review of Sociology 24.Google Scholar
  25. Esposito, R. (2006). No Icons, No Monuments Worth Protecting. ABC News. June 1.
  26. Falkenrath, R. (2001). Problems of preparedness. International Security, 24(4), 147–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Foresman, G., & Henke, T. (2006). Press Conference by Under Secretary George Foresman and Assistant Secretary Tracy Henke on FY 06 Homeland Security Grant Program. Department of Homeland Security. May 31.
  28. Fort Wayne News-Sentinel Editors (2006). No. 1 on al-Qaida’s List? After We’ve Had Fun With the National Asset Database, Let’s Make it a Better Tool. Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. July 14.Google Scholar
  29. Giddens, A. (1990). The consequences of modernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Jasanoff, S. (1986). Risk management and political culture: A comparative analysis of science. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  31. Kettl, D. (1987). The regulation of American Federalism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Klinenberg, E. (2002). Heat wave: A social autopsy of disaster in Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  33. Klinenberg, E., & Frank, T. (2005). Looting Homeland Security. Rolling Stone. December.Google Scholar
  34. Lakoff, A. (2007). Preparing for the next emergency. Public Culture, 19(2), 247–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Levin, C. (2003). Investing in Homeland Security: Challenges Facing State and Local Government. Press Release. May 15.
  36. Lieberman, J. (2006). Lieberman urges DHS to explain why New Haven, SW Connecticut are Ineligible for High Risk Homeland Security Grants. Press Release. February 3.Google Scholar
  37. Lipton, E. (2006). Come One, Come All, Join the Terror Target List. New York Times. July 12.Google Scholar
  38. Massey, T., O’Neil, S., & Rollins, J. (2007). The Department of Homeland Security’s Risk Assessment Methodology: Evolution, Issues, and Options for Congress. Congressional Research Service. February 2.Google Scholar
  39. Moteff, J. (2004). Risk Management and Critical Infrastructure Protection: Assessing, Integrating, and Managing Threats, Vulnerabilities and Consequences. Congressional Research Service. September 2.Google Scholar
  40. Moteff, J. (2006). Critical Infrastructure: The National Asset Database. Congressional Research Service. September 14.Google Scholar
  41. MSNBC (2006). Inspector: Homeland Security Database Flawed. MSNBC News Service. July 12.
  42. New York Times (2006a). Pork 1, Antiterrorism, 0. Editorial. New York Times. June 2.Google Scholar
  43. New York Times (2006b). Risk Wins a Round Over Politics. Editorial. New York Times. January 4.Google Scholar
  44. O’Hanlon, M. (2006). Homeland Security Funding: Urban Area Grant Maze. Washington Times. June 9.Google Scholar
  45. Office of the White House (2003). National Strategy for the Physical Protection of Critical Infrastructures and Key Assets. February.Google Scholar
  46. Perrow, C. (2007). The next catastrophe: Reducing our vulnerabilities to natural, industrial, and terrorist disasters. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Porter, T. M. (1995). Trust in numbers: The pursuit of objectivity in science and public life. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Ridge, T. (2003). “Forward,” The Fiscal Year 2003 Urban Areas Security Initiative Grant Program II, i. Website. Accessed July 20, 2010.
  49. Roberts, P. (2005). Shifting priorities: congressional incentives and the homeland security granting process. Review of Policy Research, 22(4), 437–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rose, N. (1999). Powers of freedom: Reframing political thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Shenon, P., & Flynn, K. (2004). Mayor Tells Panel ‘Pork Barrel Politics’ is Increasing Risk of Terrorism for City. New York Times. May 20.Google Scholar
  52. State of Missouri Department of Public Safety (2006). Missouri Among First in Nation to Overhaul Homeland Security Database. Press Release. July 13.
  53. Stephan, R. (2006). Database is just the First Step. USA Today. July 21.Google Scholar
  54. Strathern, M. (Ed.). (2000). Audit cultures: Anthropological studies in accountability, ethics, and the academy. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  55. Timmermans, S., & Berg, M. (2003). The gold standard: The challenge of evidence-based medicine and standardization in health care. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  56. United States House of Representatives (2006). DHS Terrorism Preparedness Grants: Risk-Based or Guess-Work? Testimony Transcript. Committee on Homeland Security. June 21.Google Scholar
  57. United States Senate (2005). Department of Homeland Security’s Budget Submission for Fiscal Year 2006. Testimony Transcript. Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. U.S. Government Printing Office. March 9.Google Scholar
  58. Wang, H. (2006). Homeland Security: Database Controversy Overblown. Chattanooga Times Free Press. July 15.Google Scholar
  59. Weber, M. (2003). In S. Whimster (Ed.), The essential weber: A reader. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  60. Wildavsky, A. (1998). Federalism & political culture. New Brunswick: Transaction.Google Scholar
  61. 9/11 Commission (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States) (2004). The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Kean, T. H., Hamilton, L.H., Chair and Vice Chair. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  62. 9/11 Public Discourse Project (2005). Final Report on 9/11 Commission Recommendations. 9/11 Public Discourse Project. Kean, T. H., Hamilton, L.H., Chair and Vice Chair. December 5.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations