In his oversight report, “Safety at Any Price: Assessing the Impact of Homeland Security Spending in U.S. Cities,” Senator Tom Coburn (R–OK) highlights several examples of cities using homeland security grants for ill-advised expenses. Senator Coburn’s report is an important one and a must read for the media and policymakers.
My hometown of Columbus, Ohio, is singled out for wasting terrorism funds on an underwater robot. In case you didn’t know, Columbus isn’t known for its large bodies of water, and not one tunnel in Central Ohio goes underneath water, so who knows what terrorist threat Mayor Michael Coleman sees in our shallow rivers.
Coburn, however, gets a couple of vital things wrong that would have made his report even more powerful. First, contrary to his report, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not fail “to issue preparedness goals, intended to shape the use of [Urban Areas Securities Initiative] funds, until last year—nine years after the program was created.” Secondly, DHS did not fail to establish “defined performance metrics to assess the effectiveness of federal expenditures made to date.”
As I detail in my 2009 book Homeland Security and Federalism: Protecting America from Outside the Beltway, DHS released the Initial National Preparedness Goal in April 2005, with the National Preparedness Guidelines (the successor document to the Initial National Preparedness Goal) in September 2007. The most recent National Preparedness Goal issued in September 2011 is just a warmed-over version of the older documents. The fact that these earlier documents existed makes Coburn’s points all the more troubling.
Similarly, DHS released the initial version of the Target Capabilities List (TCL) in April 2005, with an updated version in September 2007. The TCL, at over 550 pages, contained 37 core capabilities, each with “a definition and outcome, preparedness and performance tasks and measure, resource elements, target preparedness levels, and identified responsibility for building and maintaining the capability.”
The TCL covered common capabilities such as planning and communication, as well as capabilities for prevention, protection, response, and recovery. Again, had Coburn’s report acknowledged this massive document, he would have expressed even greater outrage at DHS’s failure to use the TCL to allocate funds and hold cities accountable for building the capabilities in the TCL.
Coburn’s report is another brick in the wall that DHS’s administration of billions of dollars in homeland security grants is woefully inadequate.