In the midst of a historic surge in gun violence along the Mexican border and a rise in attacks on its own agents, the Homeland Security Department’s Customs and Border Patrol agency dished out $8.4 million for an unprecedented strategy.
The tax dollars didn’t buy more ammunition, put more drone patrols into the skies or pay the salaries of new border guards.
Instead, it went to Jay Robinson Racing LLC, a North Carolina -based racing team that competes in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series.
For its money, the CPB got a decal of its law enforcement emblem emblazoned on the lime green No. 28 race car driven by driver Kenny Wallace for the 2008 NASCAR season.
The expenditure, identified by Medill News Service and the Washington Guardian as part of a review of the government’s advertising expenses over 10 years, was supposed to help the Border Patrol recruit more guards as it struggled to meet President George W. Bush’s 2006 mandate to grow its force by 6,000.
But there was one problem: the advertisement on Wallace’s car didn’t make any mention of a need for recruitment. It simple featured the agency’s law enforcement emblem. An accompanying decal on the racing team’s tractor trailer that moved the car between races included the additional words “Now Hiring.”
In the end, the agency missed its goal, hiring about the same number of new agents in 2008 as it did in 2007 when it didn’t lay out millions to sponsor a race car. And Homeland didn’t renew the sponsorship for 2009, though Wallace fared well with a career-best third place finish at Memphis Motorsports Park and a sixteenth place finish in the Nationwide Series points standing.
The Homeland Security’s sponsorship has escaped the scrutiny thus far of Congress but fits into a larger portrait of government advertising at sporting events that has lawmakers questioning whether taxpayers are getting their money’s worth.
In all, Homeland Security’s spending on advertising spiked by about $20 million in 2008 to a total of $65.8 million, with the NASCAR sponsorship being the biggest new expense compared to 2007.
It’s all part of a $16 billion surge in advertising, public relations and marketing spending uncovered by the Washington Guardian and Medill News Service.
Some of that advertising was aimed at helping CPB recruit 6,000 additional border patrol agents to meet Bush’s goal of 18,000 by the end of 2008.
Without the benefit of a race car decal, the Border Patrol had increased its ranks by 2,574 in 2007. Despite the investment in NASCAR sponsorship, the agency recruited nearly about the same number of new agents — 2,576 – in 2008 and fell 2,501 recruits short of the 18,000 target, records show.
The sponsorship and recruitment efforts occurred with the backdrop of a historic rise of gun violence across the Mexican border fueled by drug gangs and an accompanying spike in attacks on U.S. border agents that often stemmed from immigrants frustrated about being stopped from illegally entering the United States.
The U.S.-Mexico border saw an 11 percent increase in incidents of violence against the agents in 2008, according to a DHS report. Of all the Southwestern border sectors, San Diego had the highest jump with a nearly 50 percent increase – a total of 377 incidents compared with 254 a year earlier.