Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 21, 2006

Are we getting ‘fleeced’ on homeland security?

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Ground Transport Security — by Christian Beckner on February 21, 2006

Veronique de Rugy from AEI and Nick Gillespie from Reason magazine published their latest broadside against homeland security spending over the weekend in the San Francisco Chronicle. The article contains the same themes that they’ve been sounding for at least a couple of years: taxpayers are getting “fleeced” because DHS and the states are wasting money on things they don’t need:

Rest easy, America. As a response to the Sept. 11 attacks, the Princeton, N.J., Fire Department now owns Nautilus exercise equipment, free weights and a Bowflex machine. The police dogs of Columbus, Ohio, are protected by Kevlar vests, thank God. Mason County, Wash., is the proud owner of a half-dozen state-of-the-art emergency radios (never mind that they are incompatible with existing county radios).

All of these crucial purchases — and many more like them — were paid for with homeland security grants. Doesn’t it make you feel more secure that $100,000 in such money went to fund the federal Child Pornography Tipline? That $38 million went to cover fire claims related to the April 2001 Cerro Grande fire in New Mexico?…

I made the argument that these themes are very misleading in this post and this post last month, noting then that these articles repeat the same, tired examples of homeland security waste, but have no evidence of wasteful spending on systematic basis. The same is true with this story.

In addition to their well-worn arguments, De Rugy and Gillespie introduce a few new wrinkles into their line of argument to attempt to persuade the reader that taxpayers are being fleeced on homeland security. For example:

Total homeland security spending in 2006 will be at least $50 billion, split between the Department of Homeland Security and many other agencies, including, improbably, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Commerce and NASA.

The latter part of the sentence implies that homeland security funds are been tossed around indiscriminately within the federal government to non-security agencies, which is blatantly misleading. This document from the OMB provides information on what EPA, Commerce, and NASA are spending money on for homeland security. EPA has lead responsibility for ensuring the security of the nation’s drinking water. Is that waste? Commerce’s homeland security spending largely consists of export control enforcement for sensitive technologies and homeland security standards-setting at NIST – both sensible activities. And NASA’s spending is solely for the physical security of its own facilities around the country, many of which require a high level of security based on their risk – certainly a sensible thing to fund.

And later in the story they criticize transit security funding:

In the aftermath of the two attacks on the London subway system in July, lawmakers and lobbyists proposed increases from $100 million to $6 billion in funding to secure public transportation. Yet if the London bombings teach us anything, it’s that throwing money at transit security is unlikely to have an impact. After decades of combating Irish Republican Army terrorists, the London subway system is known to be one of the best protected in the world, but the large public investment in surveillance did not prevent the two terrorist attacks. The second incident occurred even while the system was in maximum alert mode. Experts agree that options are limited, if not nonexistent, for preventing such strikes. So why spend money on it?

I agree that many of the large-dollar proposals for transit security were overboard. But to suggest giving up and spending no money on transit security because of the London attacks is the height of folly. The lesson that I took away from London was that their investment in surveillance was worthwhile, given the way that were able to quickly solve the case. Surveillance also has a value as a deterrent against attacks. And there are other sensible investments that should be made in transit security, such as chem-bio detectors, exit lighting, and public awareness campaigns.

There’s no excuse for wasteful homeland security spending: it should be pointed out and criticized. But it’s misleading and perhaps even dangerous to try to use these examples to imply that America should decrease its homeland security spending, at a time when we still have much, much more that we need to be doing to protect the country.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

February 22, 2006 @ 2:40 pm

It would be helpful if statistics on contracting dollars issued by DHS vis a vis DHS grants were available to analyze. And how much in contracting dollars and how much in grants are issued on a competitive basis. There are federal exemptions in the procurement statutes and regulations for national security matters, and perhaps DHS is utilizing these exemptions properly but without information available to researchers it is difficult to know.


Comment by Jeffery Fisher

February 22, 2006 @ 10:06 pm


We are getting fleeced. I work in the defense industry and many of my good friends are inside DHS. The place is a mess. Independent agencies have done some good work since 9/11 but as a whole DHS is on it’s ass. There are far too many lawyers running around in there and not enough defense and security specialist. And Christian, having spent 20 years in the military, when a new begins, the other units send their ash and trash; their dirt bags. And this happen when DHS stood up.

I could list all the fundamental business practices DHS does not have, but I would need my own weblog just to list them. But let me tell you about three areas that I have been told that have not gotten off the ground. The first is IA, but thank goodness Allen is at the helm, but they are many years away from being a true analytical department. The next is IP. The great success story of IP is the NRP. Really, Chertoff said it has major problems. But nothing is going on there, but by luck Foresman, may be able to whip it into shape. But as I look at the present organization chart and comparing it to what has been accomplished at DoD post 9/11…well, tons of work is needed. Then there is operations coordination. Geeze…this is major fallacy. They have accomplished nothing in two years and with hurricane season rapidly approaching OC will not be up and running. Much worse the HSOC is not better today than it was when it organized. No wonder USNORTHCOM is stepping in to take over.

But the sad thing is that there are working models available through DoD, but the trail lawyers running DHS, along with USCARE aka FEMA retreads do not want anything to do with the military. They tell us that they are not a military agency. True, but DHS is para-military.

I noticed that you take offence when fiscal libertarians and conservatives complain about DHS, but when your Washington Post complains, you are right there nodding your head up and down. You need to separate your ideology from good policy analysis. All group have an agenda and I would imagine you have one besides just giving us readers current homeland security information. Like AEI and Reason, there are many folks out here that think a smaller government is a good thing.

DHS is on it’s ass and yes Chertoff needs to go, if only to send a message. Nevertheless, we do need a strong Department of Homeland Security, but we are only going to get this when we can honestly look at the whole. But when the S*@# hit’s the fan, DHS will send money, guns and lawyers as Warren said, but when the time was available to plan, DHS has wasted it away.


Comment by William R. Cumming

February 23, 2006 @ 4:00 pm

Questionable whether DOD domestic crisis response has improved since 9/11 despite enormous expenditures. Also, many non-military organizations have uniformed members dealing with the public. Witness the Postal Service. Perhaps this should be considered during direct disaster operations for the first 120-180 days. This would however change the culture of disaster response. Again what is the disaster response and recovery mechanism trying to accomplish? E.G. save lives and property or restore to pre-disaster levels of economic activity. Again, brains not funds are needed. Perhaps there is a shortage of leadership. For years the leadership of the federal disaster program were former military and USACE personnel. They proved that second-career types had difficulty to adjusting to short or long term civil reconstruction issues beyond life-saving and property stablization to prevent furth loss post-disaster. FEMA was led twice by retired military personnel, once by a retired civil servant, once by a defeated Congressman/businessman, and once by a former County administrative judge before the current administration. Just as the audit of war determines outcomes of preparedness or lack thereof, the audit of events determined the success or lack thereof of prior FEMA directors. Events of a limited geographic scope like 9/11 and the Murrah Building in my judgement were not a fair test of the national state of preparedness.
The audit of Katrina is a fair test because up to several dozen similar potential situations lurk on the horizon.


Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Blog Archive » Reason story on homeland security spending: checking the facts

March 3, 2006 @ 4:12 pm

[…] I’ve commented in the past few months on similar diatribes by de Rugy and others here, here, and here, arguing that they have only anecdotal evidence that funds are being systematically wasted on homeland security grants, and that more than likely these examples are aberrant cases of waste rather than the rule. […]

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