• United States



by Jon Surmacz

How Would You Spend $10 Billion?

Apr 12, 20052 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

One wonders if infomercial king Matthew Lesko caught the 60 Minutes broadcast of April 10, 2005 the show that included the Handouts for the Homeland segment. If so, the uber-nerd with the glasses, bow tie and cheap suit peppered with garish question marks, who has become a b-grade commercial star with his cartoonish sales pitch for his best-selling Free Money& book series, might be ready to pen his next money-maker, Free Money to Protect Your Town from Terrorists.

As 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft reported, since 9/11, Congress has authorized some $10 billion in homeland security grants. Not all of it has been wisely spent. Consider:

  • Converse, Texas, used its new homeland security trailer to transport riding lawn mowers to the annual lawnmower races;
  • Mason County, Washington, spent $63,000 on a decontamination unit that no one there is trained to use;
  • Newark, N.J., spent $250,000 for a fleet of air-conditioned garbage trucks;
  • Missouri spent $7.2 million for 13,000 hazmat suits one for every law enforcement officer in the state.

The list goes on, and, depending on your point of view, gets even more absurd. Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) told 60 Minutes, There is a good deal of waste on homeland security expenditures that follows from the fact that we were in a big hurry after 9/11. The problem, Cox said, is that the money doesnt necessarily go to places where the risk is highest or where the money is needed the most.

For instance, Lake County and Tiptonville, Tenn., are getting $183,000 in homeland security funds, even though only 7,900 people live in the county and the nearest city, Memphis, is a two-hour drive away. Meanwhile, Washington, D.C., a prime terrorist target, has received $145 million for homeland security, but has spent less than 10 percent of it (Kroft raised questions about $100,000 spent on developing a rap song geared toward teens to raise security awareness). Furthermore, the district is about to get $96 million more on top of the $130 million it hasnt spent yet.

If you were the mayor of Washington, D.C., or Tiptonville, or Anytown, USA, how would you spend federal homeland security funds? Would you apply for the money even if you didnt think your town or citizenry was targeted by terrorists?