We’ve often wondered why the police in a small Vermont town keep applying for and getting Homeland Security funding for things like high speed license plate readers, fingerprint scanning machines, mobile data terminals, urban search and rescue training, and national incident management systems.
We’ve also had to chuckle at the Coming War With Keene and their purchase of a BearCat “tank.”
A new report by Senator Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, shows wasted tax dollars being spent by the Department of Homeland Security. It’s called "Safety At Any Price: Assessing the Impact of Homeland Security Spending in U.S. Cities"
He says his office spent a year looking into DHS spending, and is concerned:
The balancing act between liberty and security has been tenuous throughout the history of our nation, founded upon basic freedoms granted by our Creator and protected from government infringement within the Bill of Rights of our Constitution. But a new element has been added to this equation over the past decade that threatens to undermine both our liberty and security— excessive government spending and insurmountable debt.
We cannot secure liberty and guarantee security simply by spending more and more money in the name of security. 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. Our $16 trillion national debt has become the new red menace not only lurking in our midst, but created and sustained by shortsighted and irresponsible decisions made in Washington.
The report even mentions the Keene “tank” as an example (emphasis added by me):
If in the days after 9/11 lawmakers were able to cast their gaze forward ten years, I imagine they
would be surprised to see how a counter-terrorism initiative aimed at protecting our largest
cities has transformed into another parochial grant program. We would have been frustrated to
learn that limited federal resources were now subsidizing the purchase of low-priority items like an armored vehicles to protect festivals in rural New Hampshire, procure an underwater robot in Ohio and to pay for first responder attendance at a five-day spa junket that featured a display of tactical prowess in the face of a “zombie apocalypse.”
Keene gets mentioned again with more details later on:
In Keene, New Hampshire residents revolted against the town’s plan to acquire a BearCat, developing their own motto – “thanks, but no tanks.” Residents viewed the vehicle as an unnecessary purchase even though it is being paid
for though a DHS grant worth $285,933.
Although the town has had just two murders in the past 15 years, Keene Police Captain Brian Costa
argued that “when this grant opportunity came up, it made a whole bunch of geographic sense,” since
none of the five armored vehicles already in the state are not located in southwestern New Hampshire
where Keene is located. He further stated that thevehicle would have been useful during the 2005 floods where the police department lost a cruiser.
The grant application for the BearCat cited the 2004 Pumpkin Festival and the 2007 Red Sox Riots,
when the Red Sox won the World Series as examples of incidents when the BearCat could be
used.197 The Pumpkin Festival is an annual event with 70,000 visitors, many who come to Keene in
hopes of breaking the world record of lighting the most Jack’o’Lanterns. The current world record
holder is Boston with 30,128 lit pumpkins. Local law enforcement considers the festival a possible
target for terrorists. “Do I think al-Qaeda is going to target Pumpkin Fest? No, but are there fringe groups that want to make a statement? Yes,” said Kenneth Meola, Keene Police Chief.
Dubbed a “poster child of waste” by the lone Keene councilman to oppose the purchase, he joined residents who viewed the vehicle as an attempt to militarize the police department in an already safe town.
The report says politics is partly to blame:
This nation will never be able to eliminate entirely the threat of terrorist attacks. No matter how
diligent our intelligence agencies are in collecting threat information, it is nonetheless imperfect.
Dealing with the risk of attack requires understanding our limitations and focusing on the best
things we do to prevent one—a concept referred to often as “buying down risk.” For programs
like UASI that means establishing a framework for conducting a risk analysis and allocating resources where they are most likely to make the biggest difference.
Unfortunately, DHS and Congress have often let politics interfere, diluting any results. Instead of sending funds where they can have the biggest impact, money is spread around to parochial political interests. This ensures fewer complaints and broad political support, but does not necessarily mean we are safer. (emphasis added)
The report lists program after program of unnecessary spending on things that do not make us safer and concludes that Homeland Security has become an entitlement program for states:
More than ten years after 9/11, the federal budget realities of the United States does not allow us to assume that any taxpayer dollar spent in the name of preparedness is a dollar well spent.
Since the list of needs will always exceed the money available, we have to prioritize the biggest risks and steer funding to those cities and urban areas. Transforming UASI into an entitlement
program for states, rather than a program that protect our cities from terrorists, is in fact the failure of imagination we were warned about by the 9-11 Commission.