To Honor The Fallen, Stop Wasting Money | Citizens Against Government Waste

To Honor The Fallen, Stop Wasting Money

The WasteWatcher

When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was established in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, lawmakers decreed that the new House and Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittees would not accept earmark requests. The decision to keep earmarking out of DHS funding decisions seemed to show that members of Congress truly believed in protecting national security. It also made the point that elected officials in Washington know how easy it is for opportunistic legislators to leverage a crisis for parochial benefit.

Lamentably, such farsighted precautions did not last. By fiscal year (FY) 2004, earmarks had wormed their way into the DHS budget, to the tune of 18 projects worth $423 million. That money included $50 million for a National Exercise Program and $100,000 for a child pornography tip line. By FY 2006, DHS earmark totals had ballooned to 35 projects worth $2.7 billion, an increase in spending of 638 percent over FY 2004. That year’s bill included $175 million for port security grants, much of which, according to the American Enterprise Institute’s report “What Does Homeland Security Spending Buy?”, was declared by the inspector general of DHS “to be for a purpose other than security against an act of terrorism.” It also contained $10 million for the Intercity Bus Security Grant Program, which subsidized profitable companies such as Greyhound, Coach, and, most absurdly, Hampton Jitney, Inc., which is known primarily for shuttling wealthy New Yorkers to their summer homes in the Hamptons.

In FY 2010, the last year Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) published its annual Congressional Pig Book, the dollar amount of DHS earmarks had dropped to $243 million, although the number of projects funded shot up to 173. That decrease in wasteful spending can likely be attributed to the requirement for names to be attached to earmark requests, which allowed organizations like CAGW to call out the worst earmark offenders. In FY 2011, Congress agreed to an earmark moratorium for all appropriations bills, but, as CAGW has already pointed out on several occasions, that has not stopped lawmakers from slipping pork into various bills. The DHS appropriations bill, however, contained no earmarks, either by Congress’s definition or CAGW’s.

However, earmarks have never been Washington’s only means of wasting taxpayer dollars. DHS hands out a variety of grants each year “to enhance the capacity of state and local emergency responders to prevent, respond to, and recover from a weapons of mass destruction terrorism incident involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive devices and cyber attacks.” While some of these grants have provided funding for many commendable expenses, the Center for Public Integrity reported in 2010 that waste, fraud, and abuse have been worryingly endemic to DHS grants. Local California law enforcement officials throughout the state accrued $15 million in questionable expenditures, including $67,000 worth of surveillance equipment that was never removed from its packaging, $47,000 on unused computer software, and dozens of purchases that were never subject to a competitive bidding process. In Louisiana, police used DHS grants to purchase more than a dozen new Dodge Durangos, and Wasilla, Alaska spent $410,000 on a “mobile-command vehicle outfitted with a conference room and $427,000 for a hazardous-materials truck that contained a software program for plotting potentially deadly chemical plumes.” Another small town in Alaska spent $200,000 on security cameras – a scandal over which the town mayor eventually resigned.

This September will mark 10 years since the horrific events of 9/11, and there will doubtless be many public gatherings and remembrances for the victims of that awful day. We will be reminded again of how important it is to remain vigilant in the protection of America from its enemies. To a significant extent, that protection is designed and carried out by DHS, which means that every dollar wasted on frivolous pork or foolish extravagances is a dollar that could have gone toward saving lives. All the more reason to extend Congress’ earmark moratorium indefinitely, and to aggressively root out waste at DHS. At CAGW, we think that would that would be a very appropriate 9/11 commemoration.

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