- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2005

It was right there in the recommendations of the September 11 commission: Don’t let homeland security become the newest outlet for pork-barrel spending.

Unfortunately, the commission’s concerns have proven all too accurate. Homeland security grants have become the main way the federal government doles out money to states and local law enforcement. As a result, the commission’s worst fears are coming true: We’re spending more on homeland security and getting less.

If the administration gets its way, grants to state and local law enforcement and other “first responders” will account for $3.4 billion of the $4.7 billion the federal government plans to dole out for homeland security next year.

The Department of Homeland Security itself has raised a red flag about the perils of porkifying DHS spending. A “Review of the Port Security Grant Program” by its inspector general questioned the merits of “several hundred projects” related to port security.

In one of the more egregious examples of waste highlighted in the IG report, a private ship terminal that handles “solvents” landed $10,000 to buy fences to prevent release of the solvents into the sea. What has this to do with homeland security? For that matter, why is government picking up this tab for a private business to begin with?

It could be much worse. Last year, owners and operators of more than 350 U.S. ports shrilly demanded increased federal grants for port security. Sen. Fritz Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, sought $2 billion for these grants. The administration wanted them limited to $50 million, lobbyists called for $400 million and lawmakers agreed to $150 million.

That would be a good deal — $150 million to secure the nation’s ports — if our ports were secured for this money. But as the IG’s report makes all too clear, such is not the case.

The problem goes beyond wasteful spending on port security. It’s not clear even effective spending on port grants would give the nation the biggest bang for its security buck. The U.S. port infrastructure is so vast that, for $150 million, we could barely hope to meet the most critical security needs.

Spreading that money injudiciously across the nation won’t come close to plugging all the holes. Even if you spent every penny efficiently, it would be akin to locking the door in a house but leaving the windows open.

So what should we buy with our $150 million? What should the federal role be? The most successful homeland security grants have been used to either fund studies that assess our vulnerability or to encourage public-private partnerships that adopt sustainable and effective port-security programs.

Rather than throw money at ineffective programs that won’t begin to address the considerable vulnerabilities of our port facilities, we should divert those federal dollars to beefing up intelligence and early-warning systems, as well as improving domestic counterterrorism and border and transportation security programs. Such efforts would help keep terrorists out of our ports to begin with.

Congress can help address this problem this year by keeping the pigs clear of the trough. The administration proposes to freeze the grant funding for 2006.

Less money spent means less wasted in this case. Mr. Bush also has proposed rolling port grant programs into a general state and local grants fund. That would force port security interests to compete with other priorities, and should weed out the weakest claims on tax dollars.

Finally, the administration wants to shift dollars from port grants to accelerated modernization of the Coast Guard. This makes even more sense. The Coast Guard’s modernization has been chronically underfunded. And since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, increased activities are wearing out equipment much faster than anticipated.

Lawmakers should ensure Coast Guard modernization is fully funded before they even think about dumping more federal dollars into port grants for state, local and private-sector projects that contribute only marginally to security at sea.

When it comes to protecting our homeland, only results matter. Spending more means little if the money isn’t spent well.

James Jay Carafano, co-author of “Winning the Long War: Lessons from the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving Freedom,” is senior research fellow for National Security and Homeland Security at the Heritage Foundation.

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