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.