Like "national defense" during the Cold War, projects with the "homeland security" label that seek congressional funding get through with little scrutiny.
By William LaJeunesse
Friday, September 11, 2009
Who leads Congress in pork projects?
If you want money from Congress, consider these two magic words: terrorism and disaster.
As the nation commemorates the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the nation's security remains at the forefront.
But sources told FOX News that, while preserving homeland security is a priority, taxpayers now are footing the bill for dozens of academies, institutes and centers that do exactly the same thing. Just this year alone, millions will be spent on duplicative terrorism preparedness, training and information centers.
Congress has allocated $132 million this year for the multi-state National Domestic Preparedness Consortium and $10 million for the National Institute for Hometown Security in Kentucky -- an earmark from Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky. In addition, $57 million is being spent for the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Alabama, compliments of Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala..
Another $8 million is going for the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium in North Carolina, Tennessee, Iowa, Arkansas and Ohio. This is in addition to the $7 million already in the Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response in New York and the $120 million for an advanced training center in West Virginia, the result of several earmarks from former Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.
Don't forget Sen. Pat Leahy's, D-Vt., $1.7 million earmark for the National Center for Counterterrorism and Cyber Crime in Vermont. Or the $3.5 million each that was spent on cyber security at the University of Texas and the Cyber Security Test Bed and Evaluation Center in North Carolina.
Keep in mind that the FBI and the Border Patrol already have academies in Virginia and New Mexico that provide much of the same training and research. Then there is the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, built in Georgia in 1970, where more than 80 federal policing agencies go to train, and the National Fire Academy and Emergency Management Institute in Maryland, which handles first responders.
"I think it's unnecessary, wasteful and duplicative and politically motivated," says Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., who says these centers bring big money into congressional districts.
"If you can bring in a federal government training center in your district, you know, those are good paying jobs. Then you'll have the students themselves that will come and go, and stay in local hotels, and buy food from local restaurants, and things like that, so it's a great boost for a local economy."
But it isn't just big projects that are duplicative and unnecessary, skimming off valuable homeland security dollars in an era of record spending, layoffs and unfunded mandates.
Consider the Sept. 11 commission report. It warned Congress to keep their hands out of the cookie jar, recommending that "homeland security assistance should be based strictly on an assessment of risks and vulnerabilities." It went on to say "that assessment should consider such factors as population, population density, vulnerability, and the presence of critical infrastructure within each state; Congress should not use this money as a pork barrel."
Following Sept. 11 the Department of Homeland Security's Emergency Operation Center (EOC) fund was set up to funnel money to the largest U.S. cities so that multiple agencies could coordinate their response to disaster or terrorist attack.
Last year, $22 million went for EOCs. This year the demand is $42 million for 75 EOCs, including one in Whitefish, Mont., which has a population of 8,000, and Boeme, Texas, which has a population of 6,000.
Another town in line for $750,000 worth of funding is Port Gibson, Miss., which is less than two miles square, has fewer than 2,000 residents and just seven police officers. According to the latest FBI numbers, Port Gibson had no murders, no rapes, no robberies and just five assaults in all of 2007. Meanwhile Las Vegas, presumed to be high on any terrorist hit list, gets $600,000.
And while most EOCs are designed to serve as a state or regional response center, more than $2 million in grants went to five New Jersey cities or counties -- all within 12 miles of each other.
Not far from New York City, South Orange Township wants $250,000 for an EOC, while just 12 miles away, Newark received $1 million. Morris and Union counties each received $350,000, and nearby Hackensack got $300,000 more.
Last week, the South Orange police blotter registered a stolen bundle of newspapers and two missing cars.
"I think its way out of control," says Kingston. "In the post 9/11 world in Washington D.C., anytime you can put those two words, "homeland security," into an appropriations bill, then you automatically got less scrutiny, and you're probably more favorable to get your funding.
"So what happened was communities figured this out, and so everybody wanted to have a war room, a situation room."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano argues the funds help run agencies that fill in where federal agencies don't.
"These grants provide direct support for regional preparedness, urban security and medical response efforts in communities across the country," she said.
But even President Obama and the Office of Management and Budget say it's time to eliminate EOC grants, saying that 62 percent of funding is redundant and delivered by earmark -- not merit or vulnerability of the recipient.
Critics says these millions going out to "homeland security" projects are not necessary, while many of the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission remain unfunded -- namely the Real ID program, a secure biometric exit system for foreign visitors, and a secure single-channel radio system for first responders from multiple agencies.