Homeland Security spending questioned

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Homeland Security Department paid for an underwater robot in a Midwest city with no major rivers or lakes nearby, a hog catcher, a “latrine on wheels” in Fort Worth, Texas and a fish tank in a small Texas town, according to a new congressional report highlighting what it described as wasteful spending of tax money intended for counterterrorism purposes.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said in his 54-page report that while much of the spending for the department’s Urban Area Security Initiative appeared to be allowed under the program’s rules, it was still inappropriate in an age of budget austerity and as the federal government faces a $16 trillion national debt.

“Every dollar misspent in the name of security weakens our already precarious economic condition, indebts us to foreign nations, and shackles the future of our children and grandchildren,” Coburn said.

The grant program stems from the 2001 terrorist attacks when the federal government pledged to help equip local governments to prevent future attacks and respond if they occurred. DHS has pumped billions to states over the past decade under the program that puts states in control of how the money is ultimately spent.

The security program is the department’s most popular grant, and guidance for how money can be spent has evolved over the years. The department has no way of tracking how the money is spent and has not produced adequate measures to gauge what states and communities actually need, Coburn said.

DHS spokesman Matt Chandler said the department “fundamentally disagrees with the report’s position on the value of homeland security grants and the importance of investments in our first responders on the front lines and the development of critical capabilities at the local level.”

Chandler said the department’s grant programs are evolving and changes proposed by the Obama administration reflect “a more targeted approach” to how federal money will be spent in the future.

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