Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 21, 2005

Rolling Stone feature story on homeland security

Filed under: Business of HLS — by Christian Beckner on December 21, 2005

Rolling Stone magazine has a lengthy piece entitled “Looting Homeland Security” in their latest issue. The authors of the story cover a lot of ground in the story, all of it trying to support their central thesis: that the main reason why DHS exists is to pillage the federal treasury.

I disagree with this core thesis. And while some of the criticisms in the story are legitimate, many others are misleading or lack context. For example, in the section of the story about the response to Katrina, they don’t bother to mention the fact that the DHS Inspector General has an Office of Hurricane Katrina Oversight that is injecting a large dose of transparency on post-Katrina spending. Wouldn’t it have been relevant to mention that?

Another example of a misleading argument is found in these paragraphs:

Instead of directing resources based on the actual threat of terrorism or natural disaster, the Bush administration used homeland-security funds to reward predominantly Republican states with a low risk of terrorism. “Congress turned the new department into a giant pork barrel,” says Kettl.

Even Bush’s closest allies called the system foolish and corrupt. “Instead of applying specific risks and allocating funds to address them, the system that we presently use sometimes does nearly the opposite,” said Christopher Cox, the former Republican congressman who now chairs the Securities and Exchange Commission. Money was allocated to states and cities, Cox added, “without the prerequisite analysis of risk. These authorities, then, occasionally find themselves looking for ways to spend the money.”

This is misleading because the grant allocations issue has always been more of “small state vs. big state” issue than a “red state vs. blue state” issue. Republican House members from New York and California have supported shifts toward more risk-allocated funding. Democratic Senators from small states have slowed efforts to shift more grant money to risk-based allocations, and tried to protect state minimums.

And how exactly in his quote does Christopher Cox say that the system was “corrupt”?

The authors also rely too often on anecdotes and non-authoritative data. For example:

According to the Homeland Security Research Corporation, a private firm that monitors the “market” in federal contracts, government outsourcing on homeland security has soared by $130 billion since Bush took office. And that’s just a fraction of the federal windfall expected in the next five years. By 2010, the firm predicts, “the tragic events that resulted from Hurricane Katrina” — combined with the administration’s “much greater reliance on the private sector” — will boost federal contracts by another $400 billion.

These numbers that they quote are much higher than any rigorous analysis of homeland security spending would support. Compare these reports from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office or the recent analysis from the well-respected Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments that I blogged about yesterday. How can the private sector market for homeland security be nearly the same size as total homeland security spending – and yet, somehow DHS still has the money left over to pay 180,000 salaries? The reality is that the $130 and $400 billion figures that they cite are estimates for homeland security spending in the whole world – not just the US – and includes many homeland defense activities at the Department of Defense in addition to core homeland security. (For the distinction between homeland defense and homeland security, see here.) This is just plain shoddy journalism.

I’ve been a regular reader of Rolling Stone magazine since high school, but this article is definitely a low mark for them.

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