Report: DHS Grants Used for Sno-Cone Machines, Underwater Robots

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn released a scathing report on wasteful spending at the Department of Homeland Security. The report concentrates mainly on the grant program, Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) which is meant to help at-risk cities strengthen their security against terrorists.

DHS has spent almost $7.144 billion in UASI grants this past decade, but there is no hard evidence grant recipient cities are any safer. The program used to include 64 cities, but this was cut down to 31 in 2012. The money is specifically meant for terrorist protection. 

Officials in Michigan used money to pay for 13 sno-cone machines. Columbus, Ohio used $98,000 on an underwater robot. Keene, New Hampshire, population 23,000, bought a BearCat armored vehicle despite only having one reported homicide in the last two years. Officials told DHS it was needed for events like its annual pumpkin festival. Tulsa, Oklahoma used funds for a county jail and purchased a color printer.

A few cities used funds to pay for overtime for police and firefighters or purchased new computers for the local emergency planning office. Jacksonville UASI made a video for residents with examples of red flags “such as people with ‘above or above average intelligence’ or who displayed ‘increased frequency of prayer or religious behavior.’”

DHS permitted the grant money to be used for the HALO Counter-Terrorism Summit 2012. The event was held at the Paradise Point Resort and Spa on an island outside San Diego. First responders were allowed to use grant funds for the $1,000 entrance fee. The purpose of the conference “was to bring together technology vendors and possible customers at first-responder agencies.”

If a city did not use money for terrorism related items or activities, DHS made excuses for them. For example, FEMA jumped in and defended Michigan's use of $6,200 for sno-cone machines: in emergencies, the ice from the machine might be used for ice packs. To date, officials could not tell how many times the machines have been used for emergency reasons.

Vague guidelines and lack of oversight allow these abuses to happen.  Rep. Coburn stated:

“Considering the level of federal spending that has already gone to investments that were poorly planned or otherwise unsound or wasteful, this policy change puts federal dollars at even greater risk of waste as there are limited controls in place to ensure that taxpayer’s dollars will not sustain wasteful investments that local jurisdictions made with their own funds.”


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