DHS implements sequester cuts, treats national security as a low priority

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The Department of Homeland Security started to implement $4 billion in cuts, engineered by the White House under the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), also known as sequester.

Waste of the DHS counter-terrorism funding on "zombie apocalypse" training

Sequester regulations require every federal agency to cut the same percentage from each program, but heads of federal agencies (such as the DHS) have the ability to “reprogram” funds in order to reduce spending only on lower priority items. Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn said that this “provides a unique opportunity for each federal department to reduce spending in each program on those expenditures that are less essential.”

Instead of reducing its unbridled bureaucratic spending, the DHS threatened citizens with longer lines at the airports and reduced staffing on the southern border. The DHS spokesperson stated that sequester “would roll back border security, increase wait times at our nation’s land ports of entry and airports, affect aviation and maritime safety and security, leave critical infrastructure more vulnerable to attacks, hamper disaster response time and our surge force capabilities and significantly delay cyber security infrastructure protections. In addition, sequestration would necessitate furloughs of up to 14 days for a significant portion of our frontline law enforcement personnel, and could potentially result in reductions in capabilities across the department.”

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers that “under sequester our calculations are that we will lose in hours, including overtime, 5,000 Border Patrol agents over the next year out of the 21,370 that we actually have [for] boots on the ground. In terms of staffing at the actual ports of entry, we will be looking at furloughs of 12 to 14 days of every port officer working at a port. We are going to be looking at not being able to invest in the technology that is so important to make the most the most of the boots on the ground we have on the border.”

Napolitano claimed that because of the sequester the DHS would be unable “to provide accurate and timely financial reporting, facilitate clean audit opinions, address systems security issues and remediate financial control and financial system weaknesses.” Napolitano was quick to pounce on such a convenient excuse, because the DHS is already in hot water because of its reckless spending. Furthermore, it appears that Napolitano wasn’t truthful in predicting doom and gloom on the border because of the agency’s alleged budget shortage. In reality, the DHS is sitting on billions of dollars that could be used to counteract potential effects of the sequester.

In his February 21, 2013 letter to Janet Napolitano, Senator Coburn said that according to OMB projections, at the end of fiscal year 2013, DHS “would carry forward more than $9 billion in unobligated balances,” which “has not yet been spent, nor even assigned to a specific project, raising the question of why we would not start by reclaiming these funds.” Senator Coburn rightly demanded that Napolitano “provide an explanation for what these funds are for and whether the agency has considered them for sequestration.”

Senator Coburn also inquired about $5.25 billion dollars from 2012 FEMA grant funds for preparedness programs, which were not spent by the DHS during that year.

Napolitano is yet to respond to Senator Coburn’s inquiry. This wouldn’t be the first time the agency ignored his concerns.

In December 2012, Senator Coburn issued a scathing report, aptly entitled “Safety at Any Price”. It exposed misguided and wasteful spending by the Department of Homeland Security that made our nation “less secure by directing scarce dollars to low-priority projects and low-risk areas.” Coburn’s report dealt with the way the government spent the funds allocated to one of the largest terror-prevention grant programs at the DHS – the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI). It effectively summed up “how a counter-terrorism initiative aimed at protecting our largest cities has transformed into another parochial grant program,” because of the agency’s utter failure to establish proper guidelines and monitoring. The program that initially included only 7 largest urban areas later ballooned to 64 cities and small towns.

These decisions were based on political favors and not an actual threat of terrorism. Tom Ridge admitted this during his dubious DHS leadership, when he explained during a Senate hearing how the political factors were more important than the actual risk in choosing which urban areas receive the funding.

The same approach continued with former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, who added numerous locations to the list of grant recipients without an explanation, “at his discretion.” Tiny jurisdictions demanded homeland security grant funds, in spite of the fact that the number of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil decreased over the past 40 years.

After spending over $35 billion dollars in eight years, on October 7, 2011 the DHS finally unveiled its criteria for “First National Preparedness Goal.” Senator Coburn’s report rightly noted that “DHS’s delay in issuing preparedness goals for almost a decade… contributed to misdirected UASI spending, including significant expenditures on projects not related to
preventing and responding to terrorist attacks.”

Here are some examples of how the said anti-terrorism funds were spent by city officials, with approval of the DHS:

  • Officials in Michigan purchased 13 sno-cone machines
  • Liberty County spent anti-terrorism funds to buy a hog catcher
  • One notable event that was deemed an allowable expense by DHS was the HALO Counter-Terrorism Summit 2012. This 5-day summit was held at the Paradise Point Resort & Spa, on an island outside San Diego. First responders were allowed to use grant funds to pay the $1,000 entrance fee. The marquee event was its highly-promoted “zombie apocalypse” demonstration, designed to simulate a real-life terrorism event. It featured 40 actors dressed as zombies, all of whom were gunned down by a military tactical unit. Those zombies were meant to represent average American citizens. Officials explained that “the idea is to challenge authorities as they respond to extreme medical situations where people become crazed and violent, creating widespread fear and disorder.”
  • Fargo, North Dakota (a town which averages fewer than 2 homicides a year) spent $256,643.00 dollars on an armored truck with a rotating gun turret
  • Olathe Fire Department outside Kansas City spent $151,000.00 dollars to purchase a bomb detection robot, despite already having two such robots that continue to sit unused for years
  • Officials in Cook County, Illinois spent $45 million on a failed video surveillance network
  • Columbus, Ohio spent $98,000.00 dollars to purchase an “underwater robot”
    Small town of Keene, New Hampshire, set aside grant funds to buy a BearCat armored vehicle, with an explanation that such a militarized vehicle was necessary to patrol dangerous events like the town’s annual pumpkin festival
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania spent $88,000.00 dollars on several “long-range acoustic devices,” or LRADs. These devices are mounted on a truck and emit an ear-splitting sound to disperse protestors. Local officials used it to scare away G-20 protestors, causing a bystander to suffer permanent hearing loss. Completely disregarding this obvious danger to public health, local officials called LRAD’s “a kinder and gentler way to get people to leave”
  • Jacksonville used the funds to produce a video, alerting its residents to submit terrorist reports about people with “average or above average intelligence”, who displayed “increased frequency of prayer or religious behavior” and “conspicuous adaptation to western culture and values.” Other guidelines for spotting terrorists directed citizens to report people who were “alone or nervous” or “mumbling prayers.”
  • Seguin, Texas purchased fish tanks
  • Fort Worth spent $24,000 on a latrine with wheels
  • Kleberg County spent over $61,000.00 dollars on two used Camaros
  • Oklahoma approved spending more than $150,000 to install cameras and security barriers at the Tulsa County jail.
  • Indianapolis spent over $69,000 dollars to purchase a Neoteric hovercraft for water-based search and rescue operations.
  • Chicago wasted $45.6 million on “Project Shield,” designed to equip the city with a network of surveillance cameras to monitor 128 municipalities in Cook County, Illinois for terrorist activity. After the money was spent, this project failed and was never finalized.
  • The Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia spent nearly $12 million to purchase mobile digital fingerprinting devices, which are normally used in a voluntary capacity during traffic stops.
  • Burbank Police spent $275,000.00 dollars from DHS anti-terrorism grant funds to buy a new BearCat armored vehicle and sold its older-model to South Pasadena Police for a whopping $1 dollar.
  • Several police departments in Arizona used UASI grants to purchase armored vehicles. In 2011, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office used a SWAT team and two armored vehicles to raid the home of a man suspected to be involved in cockfighting. The actor Steven Seagal, who was then filming his television show ‘Lawman,” participated in that ridiculous raid and proudly rode in one of the militarized vehicles.

Armored vehicles and bomb detection robots top the list of equipment being purchased with anti-terrorism funds by law enforcement departments all over the U.S. Police departments are arming themselves with military assets often reserved for war zones. Militarized vehicles are becoming more commonplace in cities and towns across the country, largely because federal anti-terrorism funds are being used to acquire them. Police departments rave about “shock and awe” effect these menacing vehicles have on the American public.

In addition to armored vehicles, police departments are also planning to spend anti-terrorism funds to purchase drones.

The Miami-Dade Police Department is one of the first local police units to deploy drones in the U.S. It acquired two drones from Honeywell in 2009. A spokesperson for the PD assured residents that they don’t have to worry about stealth aircraft invading their privacy, because they “sound like flying lawnmowers.”

The Houston Police Department was planning to purchase a drone “so that it could be used to issue traffic tickets.”

The Arlington Police Department in Texas was able to secure a DHS grant to obtain a drone that was deployed during the Super Bowl in 2011 to help with security.

Drone manufacturers, such as Vanguard Defense Industries and Draganfly Innovations Inc., are proactively advising law enforcement about the availability of federal grants to purchase drones. Draganfly Innovations has a dedicated Grant Assistance Specialist to “provide grant writing support, consultation, and assistance to qualified agencies,” referring directly to FEMA grants.

The Seattle Police Department used nearly $80,000 in DHS anti-terrorism funds to purchase a DraganFlyer X6 helicopter, though it insists that it should not be considered a drone.

In Texas, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department spent $300,000.00 dollars of its anti-terrorism funding on a Vanguard’s ShadowHawk drone.

Napolitano is threatening that because of the sequester, the DHS won’t be able to “maintain the same level of security at all places around the country with sequester as without sequester,” said Napolitano, adding that the impact would be “like a rolling ball. It will keep growing.”

After wasting billions of dollars of anti-terrorism funding, the Department of Homeland Security is planning to undercut the most vital national security measures because of the sequester. Senator Coburn’s report demonstrates that such a degradation of border security is unnecessary, since there are “billions of dollars in immediate savings that would not require DHS to compromise national security.”

“By eliminating wasteful, duplicative, ineffective and low-priority programs first,” he told Napolitano, “rather than starting with [the department’s] high-priority missions, DHS can successfully navigate sequestration and continue to perform its vital functions.”

Armored vehicles, drones and national security issues seem to be merely scare tactics, aimed at the general public. Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said, “It’s a politically motivated stunt that will blow up in their faces.” These cuts to border security are meant to frighten people – after all, the DHS apparently perceives all of us as a bunch of crazed zombies.

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