NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Senator Slams Homeland Security Program for Wasteful, Frivolous Spending

December 11, 2012

Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has accused the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Urban Area Security Initiative grant program of being wasteful. The purpose of the program was to provide funds to communities that would be used to enhance readiness and response capabilities in the event of terrorist attacks, says the Washington Guardian.

  • The program has cost $7.1 billion over the last decade.
  • Some examples of misuse include: 13 sno-cone machines in Michigan, a $98,000 underwater robot in Ohio, an armored vehicle in a small New Hampshire town used to patrol the annual pumpkin festival, and zombie survival training.
  • In essence, the program has become a means for local police departments to use federal funds to buy equipment without assessing at the costs and benefits.

Coburn argues that the problem with the program is that there is no way to means test or ensure that federal dollars are actually being used for preventing terror attacks. The DHS responds that the funds are being used for important matters and that it has improved its oversight of spending. In addition, the Obama administration has proposed a new approach that would target the funds more appropriately and incorporate measures of effectiveness to ensure accountability.

The program may give funds to legitimate counterterrorism needs but is wasted because of mismanagement. For example, in Cook County, Illinois, $45 million was spent on a camera surveillance system but failed because it could not withstand harsh weather conditions. This is one example of the DHS approving funds without rigorously testing whether the costs could be justified.

The DHS and subordinate agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency are accused of rubber-stamping requests without investigating the need for them. This is most evident in the use of the program's funds to pay for zombie apocalypse training.

Coburn's critique of the program comes as Washington debates the larger issue of fiscal restraint and the economy. He argues that budgets need to be cut and oversight needs to be improved to make sure taxpayer dollars are not being squandered.

Source: John Solomon, "Senator Slams Homeland Program for Wasteful, Frivolous Spending," Washington Guardian, December 5, 2012.


Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues