TCS Daily

Bad News for Homeland Security

By Veronique de Rugy - June 8, 2005 12:00 AM

President Bush announced Thursday that he will nominate Homeland Security Chairman Christopher Cox, R-Calif., to be chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, succeeding William H. Donaldson. While this may be great news to the business community, it will be a huge loss for the future of homeland security.

After the tragic events of September 11th, Congress and the administration moved swiftly to increase funding for homeland security activities. Total homeland security spending will be at least $50 billion for FY 2006, a 200 percent increase in the last 4 years. But, on the issue of our security, the important question is not how much federal money is spent but rather whether America is getting the maximum bang for its buck.

Not every need is worth funding and the greatest priorities and risks must be addressed first. To that goal, no money should be spent without a careful cost benefit analysis. Sadly, this common sense principle is lost on most members of Congress who are more interested in cheery press releases that broadcast how much cash they have garnered for the voters back home.

Congress for instance insists that the Homeland Security Department hand out the greater portions of budget in grants to state and local governments and private sector companies. But the mission of the Department of Homeland Security is to prevent another September 11, not to subsidize local fire stations. A dollar spent on preventing the next terror attack is vastly superior to spending dollars on recovering in the aftermath of an attack. In that sense, over investing in federal homeland security grant programs -- especially the first responder grants -- at the expense of the department's other priorities is not making us safer.

Thankfully, one man in Congress was fighting this misguided way of spending our security money: Chairman Cox. Last year, his Committee released a report "An Analysis of First Responder Grant Funding," explaining how in keeping with the way Washington spreads federal taxpayer's money to the states -- whether for highways, education or emergency preparedness -- the formula set by Congress to allocate security grants provides every state with a guaranteed minimum amount of state grants regardless of risk or need.

Accordingly, he fought and won support in the House for his legislation, the "Faster and Smarter Funding for First Responders Act" that would change the formula so funds would be distributed primarily based on the risk of terrorist attacks and the magnitude of potential damages. Under the Cox proposal, each state would get a 0.25 percent of the available first responder dollars -- instead of 0.75 percent. Even though it is not enough -- it is a big step in the right direction.

Chris Cox was also a fearless advocate against homeland security pork barrel spending. On April 10th, he was the focus of a CBS' 60 Minutes segment showing how the lack of risk-based funding coupled with the absence of goals to guide expenditure of funds at the state and local levels has resulted in shameful uses of homeland security grants. For instance, Rep. Cox denounced numerous purchases like the $63,000 spent on a decontamination unit that is now stored in a warehouse in rural Washington State because the state does not have a HAZMAT team to use it.

Sadly, few on the Hill can take the place of the invaluable Chris Cox. Most likely we will end up with someone who could make matters worse than they are now. For instance, Don Young, R-Alaska, and Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is one of the top committee members in line to take over from Cox. That would certainly be unfortunate as over the years Young has successfully managed to turn his committees into pork production machines, directing a huge amount of federal money to fund Alaska's interests.

The best person to succeed Cox would be Peter T. King, R-New York, who was a big booster last year of Cox's successful drive to make the committee permanent. King is the fifth ranking member, but he has demonstrated his support to Cox's ideas on how to reform homeland security spending many times in the past.

Chris Cox's departure from the homeland security community is a big loss for the American people. But the Republican leadership has a chance to show that their priorities are security and fiscal responsibility by choosing a Chairman who will stand up to both the bureaucracy and the pork barrel instincts of his fellow Congressmen.

Veronique de Rugy is a Research Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.



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