National Security Used as Excuse for Wasteful Federal Spending on Local Law Enforcement

Friday, December 07, 2012
Santa Claus delivering Lenco BearCat armored vehicle (photo: Montgomery County Police Department)

Spending money on homeland security doesn’t make the country any more secure if it’s spent unwisely, according to U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma).


A dogged fiscal conservative, Coburn had his staff spend a year combing through the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) grant programs, all of which are supposed to help local and state governments be prepared for terrorist attacks.


The result was a report (Safety at Any Price: Assessing the Impact of Homeland Security Spending in U.S. Cities) that concluded DHS lacks the necessary metrics to know if the $35 billion spent since 2003 has really made the U.S. safer.


“At a time when our $16 trillion national debt is our greatest national security threat, we must make sure that all programs, especially those meant to prevent terrorism, are achieving their mission,” Coburn said in a prepared statement. “This report shows that too often so-called security spending is making our nation less secure by directing scarce dollars to low-priority projects and low-risk areas.”


Case in point: Zombie apocalypse training.


DHS grant funds were used to pay the $1,000 fee for a week-long conference at Paradise Point Resort and Spa in San Diego, where a tactical training firm put on a show pretending to gun down 40 actors dressed as zombies.


Another example: A submarine for a landlocked Midwestern town.


In Columbus, Ohio, city officials convinced DHS to give it $98,000 to purchase an underwater robot—a purchase deemed an emergency because time was running out on a federal grant deadline.


Keene, New Hampshire (population: 23,000), which has experienced three homicides in the last thirteen years, used $285,933 in federal funds to buy a Lenco BearCat armored vehicle, which it took possession of on November 20. Keene Police Captain Brian Costa defended the acquisition by saying, “It’s an armored vehicle, not an armed vehicle and there's a big difference.”


Officials in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, spent $2,700 for a teleprompter, while those in Plaquemines Parish forked out $2,400 for a lapel microphone.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Dr. Coburn Releases “Safety at Any Price” Report on Questionable Grant Spending at Department of Homeland Security (office of Senator Tom Coburn)

Report Highlights Questionable Purchases Made in the Name of National Security (by G.W. Schulz and Andrew Becker, Center for Investigative Reporting)

Safety at Any Price (office of Senator Tom Coburn) (pdf)

Bipartisan Senate Bill Would Crack Down on Pentagon Contractors (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

U.S. Dumps Excess Equipment on Police Departments that Don’t Need It (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

The Militarization of Your Local Police (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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