DHS: Sno-Cone Machines Are Counter-Terrorism Measures

As a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Senator Tom Coburn has been exposing massive waste in the defense department. In a recent report, he focused on the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grants given to cities by Homeland Security. In his report, he wrote:

 “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 vehicle 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.’”

This grant money is supposed to go to the more vulnerable cities in the U.S. so that officials there can invest in disaster preparedness measures. But DHS doesn’t seem to care about how the money is actually spent.

In one Michigan community, thousands of dollars of grant money was spent on 13 sno-cone machines. Officials from FEMA (a DHS subordinate) defended it and said that those purchases were authorized because, according to Coburn’s report, “The grantee characterized them as a dual purpose investment that could be used to fill ice packs in an emergency as well as to help attract volunteers at community outreach events.” Maybe they should buy tons of alcohol with their grant money because that would help sedate victims of a disaster and also help attract volunteers at community outreach events. I’m sure we can all think of many other such ideas.

Thousands of dollars may not seem like much compared to the national debt or other wasteful agencies, but these expenditures do add up, and these examples only pertain to one particular grant from one particular government agency.

Keene, New Hampshire received UASI money in order to purchase a BearCat armored vehicle. Keene is a relatively small city with a population of 23,000 and a police force of 40. There was only 1 homicide in the previous year, yet they felt justified in buying this vehicle, presumably for counter-terrorism measures. I guess they didn’t know what to do with it, because they used it to patrol events like its annual pumpkin festival.

The Washington Guardian summed up another example mentioned in Coburn’s report:

 “The report also cites examples where funding went to legitimate counterterrorism needs but was wasted through poor performance and mismanagement, like in Cook County, Ill., where $45 million was spent on a camera surveillance system codenamed ‘Project Shield’ that failed because it was not built to withstand Chicago’s harsh weather.”

 That’s $45 million wasted. Since 2003, $7.1 billion of UASI funds have been granted to these “vulnerable” cities. But it looks like it’s turned into just another entitlement program that has little, if any, to do with national security.