Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 3, 2006

Reason story on homeland security spending: checking the facts

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on March 3, 2006

Reason Magazine released a piece yesterday by AEI’s Veronique de Rugy that is headlined “Are We Ready for the Next 9/11? The sorry state—and stunning waste—of homeland security spending.”

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.

This article adds a few new errors and misconceptions to those I’ve noted previously. For example, she writes:

Even more important, though, is Congress’ failure to match the consolidation of DHS with the consolidation of its oversight of the DHS’ constituent parts. Even after the combination of more than two dozen agencies, committee chairs have been unwilling to relinquish much of their jurisdiction over the 22 agencies and activities transferred to DHS. As a result, last year alone the leaders of DHS had to appear before 88 congressional committees and subcommittees.

This is an issue that I’ve researched extensively. This statistic of “88 congressional committees” dates back to 2002, and has been inoperative for at least three years, when the appropriations subcommittees were reorganized. It is certainly out-of-date since the start of the 109th Congress, when solid reforms in the House and partial (but incomplete) reform in the Senate improved the oversight of DHS substantially. It’s completely false and misleading to repeat these ideas today.

And later:

Despite promises by appropriators to pass a pork-free homeland security bill and a presidential ban on earmarks forbidding lawmakers from slipping their pet projects into the bill at the last moment, Congress loaded the fiscal year 2006 homeland security bill with earmark projects having nothing to do with homeland security, and President Bush signed it. Among these projects: $7.9 million for investigations of missing and exploited children; $102,000 to promote public awareness of the child pornography tip line; $203,000 for Project Alert, a drug use prevention program for schools; $15.8 million to enforce laws against forced child labor; $500,000 to continue steel tariff training, a program “to ensure Customs and Border Protection (CBP) enforcement of U.S. trade laws benefits from the expertise of the steel industry in classifying steel goods”; and $15 billion for bridge alterations in Mobile, Alabama; LaCrosse, Wisconsin; Chelsea, Massachusetts; Galveston, Texas; Morris, Illinois; and Burlington, Iowa.

First of all, I believe that last number is $15 million, not $15 billion. Second, many of these aren’t really earmarks per se but legislative mandates, since (as in the “forced child labor” example) their benefits do not accrue to a single district or interest group. Third, if you look at pork and earmarks across the various appropriations bills, the homeland security legislation has probably been the least-earmarked bill of any appropriations legislation in the last three years.

Another example:

In contrast, the burgeoning U.S. system for screening the bags of every airline passenger has already cost $18 billion during the last four years but will do little to prevent 9/11-style hijacking. Nor does the screening system prevent the destruction of airplanes, since it doesn’t systematically check carry-on bags or air freight for explosives.

The $18 billion statistic that she cites is for the entire TSA budget – not simply the segment of it for checked baggage screening. And does she seriously think that we should stop screening checked bags for explosives simply because checkpoint security needs more work? That’s crazy talk.

Later:

The TSA has established itself as a multibillion-dollar centralized bureaucracy whose main function is to guarantee that security screeners, many of whom barely speak English, spend endless hours harassing pilots, confiscating dangerous mustache scissors, and pawing grandmothers and children.

The TSA screeners are far from perfect, but this attack is offensive and scurrilous.

A publication that calls itself Reason needs to do a better job of fact-checking its stories. By all means, there needs to be vigilance against fraud and waste at the Department of Homeland Security and its grant programs, and I’ve written many posts pointing out examples where the taxpayers’ money is being wasted or at risk. But it’s misleading to use these examples to make generalizations about DHS spending, and it’s irresponsible to use factually incorrect statistics in support of one’s arguments in the way that this story does. This type of story creates a troubling risk that public support for essential homeland security activities will be undermined – and that’s an outcome that endangers us all.

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