New Castle News

December 7, 2012

Our Opinion: Federal grant program directs funds to dubious purposes

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Ever since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, America has seen a dramatic increase in security-related spending.

This includes everything from the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, to the establishment of new anti-terrorist measures at airports and the funding of equipment for police departments and other first responders all over the United States.

If you ask Americans in general terms if they support such programs and spending, they are likely to respond in the affirmative. The Sept. 11 attacks and other incidents have revealed weaknesses in the nation’s security measures, and people are willing to pay to be safe.

But are they willing to pay for the veneer of security that doesn’t accomplish anything? In other words, do they support the spending of money that serves no credible purpose in terms of promoting public safety?

We doubt that. And we hope a new congressional report will lead to a more critical assessment of the funding of domestic security efforts.

The report, produced at the directive of Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, outlines spending that raises questions.

Here are a few examples:

•$98,000 for an underwater robot in Columbus, Ohio, a landlocked municipality with no major rivers.

•$24,000 for a “latrine on wheels” for Fort Worth, Texas.

•$285,933 for the purchase of an armored vehicle for Keene, N.H.

•$9,000 in signage for Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind.

•$21 for a fish tank in Seguin, Texas.

The funds involved here come from a federal grant program that allows municipalities to apply for funds designed to assist with counterterrorism efforts. It’s a broad category that allows municipalities to be imaginative with their requests for aid.

Since 2001, billions of dollars have been spent beefing up domestic security and giving municipalities tools they lacked before. There is no doubt that much of that money was rationally spent. But there’s also no doubt that when given the opportunity to find uses for funds that are available, some people will go far afield.

Commenting on his report, Cobern criticized dubious spending amid the need to be responsible with public funds in the face of a $16 trillion national debt. Meanwhile, fellow Sen. Joe Lieberman, who chairs the body’s homeland security committee, defended the grant program.

While Lieberman acknowledged Coburn may have made some points with his critique, he praised the program’s merits overall.

We suppose that’s the way to look at it. While maintaining security is a legitimate and ongoing concern of government, so is accountability. Coburn’s report is a reminder that this grant program ought to be a little more skeptical of some of the requests.