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Millions of DHS Grant Dollars Questioned by Senate Report

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of Homeland Security is funding a number of projects that, according to a new congressional report, have little connection to its charter for counter-terrorism  Such hard to justify ventures included a hog catcher in rural Texas, a fish tank in a small Texas town, and an underwater robot in a Midwest city with no nearby major rivers or lakes.

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) released a report that acknowledged that much of the spending for the department’s Urban Area Security Initiative seems to be allowed under the program’s rules, but is inappropriate in this time of budget austerity as the 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,” said Coburn.

The report focused on UASI spending in the last few years in a number of states. Among the projects Coburn found questionable were:

  • $250,000 for security upgrades, including $9,000 in signage, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
  • A “BearCat” armored vehicle bought with a $285,933 grant in Keene, N.H., a small New England town that is home to an annual pumpkin festival that draws up to 70,000 people.
  • $98,000 for an underwater robot in Columbus, Ohio, where there are no major rivers and few lakes nearby.
  • $24,000 for a “latrine on wheels” in Fort Worth, Texas.

The DHS grant program has pumped billions to states over the past decade and the states are given control over how the money is ultimately spent. DHS has no way of tracking how the money is spent and no adequate measures to gauge what states and communities actually need, Coburn said. During that time there have been hundreds of examples of questionable homeland security grants, including infamous snow cone machines bought by Michigan officials.

Matt Chandler, a DHS spokesman, 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.”

Senator Joe Lieberman (IND – CT), the retiring chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, said that while Coburn’s report “makes some good points,” the program’s benefits outweigh its flaws. He observed, “The grants, for example, have helped improve first-responder communications between different jurisdictions and levels of government — a lesson learned from the 9/11 attacks when scores of New York City fire fighters died because of poor communications.”

Congress has routinely complained about the lack of accountability of the grant programs yet those same congressmen have had problem receiving the millions of federal dollars spent in their districts.

In 2004, then-DHS Secretary Tom Ridge told a congressional panel asking about allotments to various cities that he was looking for a formula that gets “218 votes in the House or 51 votes in the Senate, in order to get it done.”

Senator Coburn didn’t shirk his own personal blame for the program’s failings.”Any blame for problems in the UASI program … also falls on Congress, which is often more preoccupied with the amount of money sent to its cities than with how the money is spent, or whether it was ever needed in the first place,” Coburn said.

©2012 Off the Grid News

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