If you’ve ever wondered how it is that our government is staggering under a multi-trillion dollar shortfall as between what it brings in and what it spends, look no further than today’s announcement, triumphantly boasting of another $2.1 billion to be given away by the Department of Homeland Security in ‘Preparedness Grants’.
These grants are merely the continuation of a program that has given away $35 billion since 2002.
What are we getting for our money this year? How about the ongoing Tribal Homeland Security Grant Program, which this year receives another $10 million allowing ‘eligible tribes to implement preparedness initiatives to help strengthen the nation against risk associated with potential terrorist attacks and other hazards’.
I guess that means the Indian cigarette stalls, fireworks stands and casinos will now be festooned with security cameras and armed security guards?
Are foreign terrorists really targeting Indian lands and buildings in their attempted (but nonexistent) attacks on the US?
You want another example? How about the Nonprofit Security Grant Program – this gives $19 million to ‘nonprofit organizations that are at high risk of a terrorist attack’. What organizations would those be? With a maximum of $75,000 per award, clearly it is expected that there are some 250 eligible organizations.
And think about this $75,000 maximum award. What substantial security measures can any organization introduce for only $75,000? That wouldn’t even pay for one year of having a single security guard on duty 24/7.
Trains, Planes, Boats and Buses Too
Money goes to a lot of other purposes as well. Even bus operators get to dip into the public trough, with almost $5 million being allocated to enhance the security of intercity and charter bus services. Are we to believe that terrorists are not only actively plotting another attack on our aviation system, but also on trains (Amtrak gets $22 million, freight railroads another $7 million), boats ($235 million for port security), local buses ($200 million for transit systems) and even Greyhound and charter bus operators too?
Is $2.1 Billion Dollars Too Much – or Not Enough?
It would seem that I’m decrying this $2.1 billion expenditure as being a terrible waste of money. And that is true. But – here’s the paradox. In part, it is a waste of money because it is too little rather than too much money.
As mentioned above, there is the $19 million allocated to nonprofits, but with a maximum award of $75,000 per grant. What can $75,000 do to materially improve the security of anything? Nothing.
Another example – a metropolitan medical response system that gives $125,000 grants to 124 recipients, allowing them to ‘enhance and sustain comprehensive regional mass casualty incident response and preparedness capabilities’. That amount of money barely registers on the Richter Scale of funding for such lofty ideals and objectives. It certainly doesn’t allow for any sustained enhancement of capabilities. It would pay for less than half an extra 24/7 paramedic on duty, for only one year.
And so here’s the subtle thing : By insufficiently funding these blue sky idealistic projects, we’re wasting the money because there’ll be little if anything of substance to show for it, and certainly nothing that will materially impede a determined terrorist or two.
Money Being Wasted on the Wrong Things
We’re not only wasting most of this money because it is being spread too far and too thin. We’re also wasting the money because it is being spent on the wrong things.
Almost all this money is being misdirected. As I’ve commented regularly in the past, much of our present security focus is on ‘hardening’ targets and making them more resistant to certain specific types of perceived terrorist threat. We see this most clearly when we fly, where we’ve watched the evolution of ‘security’ measures as they continue to respond to specific threats, requiring us to take our laptops out, our shoes off, limiting liquids, banning pocket knives, and so on.
All of these measures, whether at the airport, at the bus station, or on an Indian reservation, are largely misdirected. Terrorists can think of a million different ways to attack a million different targets, and we can not possibly hope to protect every non-profit organization and every train station from every possible potential threat, whether our budget for doing so is $2.1 billion or $2.1 trillion. And even if we somehow could do so, that just means that resourceful terrorists will shift their focus to some other less well protected target.
What we see with this latest $2.1 billion tranche of money flowing to all manner of ridiculous beneficiaries is a partial recognition that our country faces many and diverse threats. But the solution currently adopted – throwing money willy nilly at anything and everything – is wrong.
We need to spend the $2.1 billion on better border security, to keep the bad guys out of our country in the first place (and, yes, that includes the Mexican border).
We need to spend the $2.1 billion on better controls on who is in our country at present. Currently, the federal government seeks to restrict or prevent local police and other law enforcement agencies from even enquiring about a person’s lawful immigration status in the country – a terrorist can not only walk across the border, but once he gets here, he doesn’t have to fear any consequence of any (non-existent) police patrol and stop.
We need to spend the $2.1 billion on better intelligence gathering and analysis systems, so rather than protect targets against unknown bad guys with unknown methodologies, we are finding the bad guys before they get to their targets and attempt their attacks.
Prevention is better than cure. And a stitch in time saves nine – rather than spending $34 million on a ‘Metropolitan Medical Response System’ that will ‘enhance and sustain comprehensive regional mass casualty incident response and preparedness capabilities’ we need to spend the money on stopping the terrorists from doing harm to us in the first place.
What we see here is nothing more than crude pork barrel politics, throwing money at as many different groups of people as possible in the hope of buying some votes, while hiding behind the specter of terrorism as a justification for these handouts.