REPORT | (Zombi) Safety at Any Price: Assessing the Impact of Homeland Security Spending in U.S. Cities
A demo in San Diego on October 31, 2012 for the HALO convention.Strategic Operations provided the make-up, pyrotechnics and atmospheric’s with a full dressed village.
Safety at Any Price: Assessing the Impact of Homeland Security Spending in U.S. Cities
The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and the attacks of September 11, 2011 will forever be etched
in our collective memory and forever serve as painful reminders that the enemies of freedom are
many and our security often comes at a steep price—in dollars, lives and liberty.
We no longer can assume our distant shores from foreign lands or having the greatest military
force in the history of the world are enough to protect us. We now live with the reality
terrorists are within our midst and they may look, sound and act like us, but they hate
everything we are and the values we share.
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.
We can only defend our freedoms by ensuring the dollars we spend on security are done so in a
fiscally responsible manner, meet real needs, and respect the very rights we are aiming to
preserve and protect.
This report, Safety at Any Price, exposes misguided and wasteful spending in one of the largest
terror-prevention grant programs at the Department of Homeland Security – the Urban Area
Security Initiative (UASI).1
We cannot assume that because the UASI program has an important mission and a large budget
it is accomplishing its goals, however. Significant evidence suggests that the program is
struggling to demonstrate how it is making U.S. cities less vulnerable to attack and more
prepared if one were to occur—despite receiving $7.1 billion in federal funding since 2003.
After ten years, a clear danger for the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grant program is
that it would be transformed from a risk-based program targeting security gaps into an
entitlement program for states and cities.
My office has conducted a year-long inquiry into the this grant program found that to wide of
latitude is given to states and urban areas to determine the projects they will fund, and program
parameters defining what constitute allowable expenses are extremely broad.
Congress and DHS failed to establish metrics to measure how funds spent through the UASI
program have made us safer or determine the right amount to dedicate to counterterrorism
programs to mitigate the threat. While DHS recently established its first National Preparedness
Goal, it has yet to develop a robust assessment of the nation’s current preparedness capabilities
or defined performance metrics to assess the effectiveness of federal expenditures made to date.
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.”
As we mark the tenth anniversary of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the
time has come for Congress to reconsider DHS’s mission and approach to counterterrorism. We
must be honest with the American people that we cannot make every community around the
country invulnerable to terrorist attacks by writing large checks from Washington, D.C. Not
only is this an unrealistic goal, but it also undermines the very purpose of our efforts. By letting
every level of government – federal, State and local – do the things each does best, we can secure
our cities and our freedoms. Confusing these roles, as we have done with UASI, leads to waste,
inefficiency and a false sense of security.
We must rededicate ourselves to ensuring that every dollar the federal government spends on
terrorism prevention programs is spent wisely, yielding the largest improvement in security and
best return on investment for your tax dollars. Facing a $16 trillion national debt, Congress
needs to have a conversation about what we can afford to spend on the Department of
Homeland Security’s terrorism prevention programs and where to spend it.
The American people recognize and understand the limits we face. They understand that we
should never sacrifice all of our freedoms in the name of security. We similarly cannot mortgage
our children and grandchildren’s future by funding unnecessary and ineffective programs, even
including those that have important missions.
Tom Coburn, M.D.
Full report below…