Rich Tucker

We’re spending too much on homeland security.

How’s that possible? After all, the nation is at war. Just this month, al Qaeda vowed to keep up its attacks around the world until they reach Washington, D.C. The United Nations recently warned that the terrorist group is working toward launching a biological or chemical attack. And the Department of Homeland Security remains concerned al Qaeda may hijack more planes and attempt to crash them into facilities that contain hazardous materials.

The threat is real, and clearly we need to spend whatever it takes to keep ourselves safe.

But that’s not what’s happening. We’re spending. Hundreds of millions of dollars, and counting. But too much of that is being wasted.

The Washington Post has done what Congress can’t, or won’t. The paper took a look at where our “homeland security” spending over the last two years has gone. Its findings are dismaying, if not surprising.

Our tax dollars have bought:

  • A boat for a volunteer fire department in Virginia ($350,000)
  • A computerized car-towing system for Washington, D.C. ($300,000)
  • Eight large-screen plasma televisions for an emergency operations center in suburban Maryland ($160,000)

In addition, millions of dollars went to buy riot gear and uniforms for first responders, while many local schools were outfitted with hallway surveillance cameras. And that’s just here in the D.C. area.

Now, all of these may, or may not, be worthy projects. It’s certainly possible for officials to defend them as “critical” to homeland security, since just about anything from military readiness to proper table manners can be considered critical if one stretches the definition of homeland security far enough.

However, Congress specifically attempted to avoid any such stretching. Before getting any federal homeland security money, recipients signed a pledge reading, “I hereby certify that federal funds will not be used to replace or supplant state or local funds … that would … [otherwise] be made available for public safety purposes.”

But as the Post reporting found, that pledge hasn’t prevented federal money from being misused.

At the same time, some truly worthy projects are stalled. For example, we’ve spent $63 million so far to upgrade communications systems in the D.C. area. But even that doesn’t seem to be enough.

There are two states, plus the District, plus any number of county and city governments within 30 miles of the White House. In the event of another attack, first responders from all these jurisdictions would be involved, and that means they have to be able to speak to each other.

Rich Tucker

Rich Tucker is a communications professional and a columnist for