Safety at any cost = bureaucratic boondoggle
Yesterday, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) released a report discussing $35 billion in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spending over the last decade. In the report, Coburn excoriated inefficient and corrupt spending that has zero benefit to the American people. From Coburn’s office’s press release:
U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) today released an oversight report, “Safety at Any Price: Assessing the Impact of Homeland Security Spending in U.S. Cities.” The report is based on a year-long investigation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grant programs and the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI).
More than $35 billion has been spent on DHS grant programs since 2003 with the intent to make Americans safer from terrorist attacks. However, 10 years later, DHS has been unable to establish goals or metrics to ensure that funds were used to make Americans safe, and cannot accurately measure how much safer we are today after spending $35 billion.
“At a time when our $16 trillion national debt is our greatest national security threat, we must make sure that all programs, especially those meant to prevent terrorism, are achieving their mission. This report shows that too often so-called security spending is making our nation less secure by directing scarce dollars to low-priority projects and low-risk areas,” Dr. Coburn said.
The report can be read in full here but for those who don’t have the time, Washington Examiner reporter Mark Flatten has more details:
Money has been wasted in big cities and small, according to Coburn. Chicago and other Cook County, Illinois, governments spent $45.6 million in DHS grants to install surveillance cameras throughout the city and in police cars between 2003 and 2009. The project never worked and was eventually abandoned.
Fargo, N.D., is one of many cities that used federal homeland security money to buy an armored vehicle, complete with a rotating gun turret, at a cost of $256,000.
So far, the costly vehicle has only been used for training and appearances at the annual Fargo picnic, where it was displayed near a children’s bounce house, according to the report.
The tiny town of Keane, N.H., justified its plan to buy a similar vehicle using DHS grant money by saying in its grant application that it could be used to protect the annual Pumpkin Festival.
DHS is defending its dollars, of course:
DHS officials disagreed with Coburn’s findings. Money from agency grants has been used by state and local governments to improve resources used to respond to natural disasters, and coordinate information-sharing on terror threats, spokesman Matt Chandler said in a written statement.
Changes proposed in the 2013 budget will require a “more targeted approach to grant funding,” as well as enhanced accountability requirements to ensure money is properly spent, Chandler said.
According to Flatten, oversight and co-investments by recipient governments are not required for the DHS funding the report examined:
Local governments are not required to put up any money of their own. They also are not required to demonstrate how the money would make them safer from terrorism.
So explanations like using 13 Sno-Cone machines to generate ice packs in a medical disaster was enough for Montcalm County, Mich., officials to justify the cost, pegged at $6,200 in the Coburn report but $11,700 in local news accounts.
The zombie skit provided training on how to deal with “extreme medical situations where people become crazed and violent, creating widespread fear and disorder,” according to the justification cited in the report.
In the grand scheme of things, $35 billion over a decade is not a lot of money. It’s less than one percent of this year’s budget, for example. But I’m sure the American people would prefer to have used that $112.18 per citizen ($35 billion divided by 312 million Americans) on food, or movie tickets, or pretty much anything besides zombie attack training and Sno-Cone machines. It’s just one more example why the federal government needs to be much, much smaller.