Pol­i­tics play role in where grants go

Grants

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - A IN QUES­TION: Lu­cas Oil Sta­dium in Indianapolis, pic­tured in Fe­bru­ary be­fore the Su­per Bowl, re­ceived $250,000 for se­cu­rity up­grades, in­clud­ing $9,000 in sig­nage. ap Mcclatchy News­pa­pers contributed to this ar­ti­cle.

our al­ready pre­car­i­ous eco­nomic con­di­tion, in­debts us to for­eign na­tions, and shack­les the fu­ture of our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren,” he said.

Among projects Coburn found ques­tion­able were:

$98,000 for the un­der­wa­ter robot in Colum­bus.

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

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.

$250,000 for se­cu­rity up­grades, in­clud­ing $9,000 in sig­nage, at Lu­cas Oil Sta­dium in Indianapolis.

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. Dur­ing the past decade, there have been other ex­am­ples of ques­tion­able home­land se­cu­rity grants, in­clud­ing in­fa­mous snow cone machines bought by Michi­gan of­fi­cials last year.

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 money will be spent in the fu­ture.

Sen. Joe Lieber­man, the re­tir­ing chair­man of the Se­nate home­land se­cu­rity com­mit­tee, said while Coburn’s report “makes some good points” the pro­gram’s ben­e­fits out­weigh its flaws.

“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 fire­fight­ers died be­cause of poor com­mu­ni­ca­tions,” said Lieber­man, I-Conn.

Congress reg­u­larly com­plains about the lack of accountability of the grant pro­grams, but law­mak­ers are happy to have the fed­eral dol­lars spent in their dis­tricts. And al­most from the be­gin­ning, the pro­gram has op­er­ated with po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions.

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 would get “218 votes in the House or 51 votes in the Se­nate, in or­der to get it done.”

Coburn wasn’t shy about shoul­der­ing some of the 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.

Af­ter a decade with­out a ma­jor ter­ror­ist at­tack on U.S. soil, the ap­petite for big coun­tert­er­ror­ism ini­tia­tives has di­min­ished, said Rick “Ozzie” Nel­son, a domestic se­cu­rity ex­pert at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, a think tank in Washington.

“The threat has evolved and we don’t have the re­sources to pro­tect all Amer­i­cans from all threats all the time,” Nel­son said. “Even if we wanted to do it, we can’t af­ford it.”

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