WASHINGTON – The Homeland Security Department paid for an underwater robot in a Midwest city with no major rivers or lakes nearby, and a hog catcher in rural Texas, according to a new congressional report highlighting what it described as wasteful spending of tax money intended for counterterrorism purposes.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said in his 54-page report that while much of the spending for the department’s Urban Area Security Initiative appeared to be allowed under the program’s rules, it was still inappropriate in an environment of budget austerity and as the federal government faces a $16 trillion national debt.
“Every dollar misspent in the name of security weakens our already precarious economic condition, indebts us to foreign nations, and shackles the future of our children and grandchildren,” Coburn said.
The report focused on UASI spending in the last few years in Arizona, California, Colorado, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma and also in some regions of Maryland and Virginia.
Among the projects Coburn found questionable were:
• $98,000 for an underwater robot in Columbus, Ohio, where there are no major rivers and few lakes nearby.
• $24,000 for a “latrine on wheels” in Fort Worth, Texas.
• A “BearCat” armored vehicle bought with a $285,933 grant in Keene, N.H., a small New England town that is home to an annual pumpkin festival that draws up to 70,000 people.
• $250,000 for security upgrades, including $9,000 in signage, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The grant program stems from the 2001 terrorist attacks when the federal government pledged to help equip local governments to prevent future attacks and respond if they occurred.
DHS has pumped billions to states over the past decade under the program that puts states in control of the money.
The security program is the department’s most popular grant, and guidance for how money can be spent has evolved over the years.
During the past decade there have been other examples of questionable homeland security grants, including the infamous snow cone machines bought by Michigan officials last year.
DHS spokesman Matt Chandler said the department’s grant programs are evolving and changes proposed by the Obama administration reflect “a more targeted approach” to how federal money will be spent in the future.