Milking the Homeland Security Cow

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by Jim Grichar (aka Exx-Gman) by Jim Grichar

In a climate of continued fear over additional terrorist attacks by al Qaeda on the United States, it is no wonder that milking the homeland security cash cow continues unabated. As Lew Rockwell observed last year following Congress's approval of a Homeland Security Department, lobbyists and contractors who specialize in extracting money from taxpayers were drooling at the prospect of making a big buck in this business. And they have prospered at taxpayers' expense.

With the passage of time and with ample funds available, others have gotten into the homeland security business, particularly a number of universities and colleges. This should not be surprising given the past proliferation of goofy, even trendy, ultra-specialized courses – and eventually majors – at America's colleges and universities. Again, the lure of a federal grant is enough to attract resources into this field.

Students appear to be responding to the availability of federal funds, figuring that the demand for such "expertise" will provide stable long-term employment prospects. After all, being secure in one's person, family and property is something most people desire, even more so in the wake of 9/11 and continued fears of further terrorist attacks, so the demand for homeland security is likely to remain strong.

And where there are students there is a need for experts to teach classes and a need for books on the subject. The private sector has for a long time looked at this problem and developed ways of addressing the issue. The government side – always slower to respond – is getting into the homeland security education area, with some past and also "wannabe" political appointees trying to profit from this government-created boom. Beginning this fall, if some college instructor wants to give an introductory course in homeland security, he can now turn to a new text, "Introduction to Homeland Security" (Note: this web site might load slowly because of the graphics content).

Unlike other book reviews I have done for LRC, I have not read – nor do I intend to read – this book. Certainly not for the $69.95 that the publisher is asking for a copy! Let me tell you why.

In one of my bureaucratic lives, I worked at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), one of the predecessors to the Homeland Security Department, and I knew and sometimes dealt with two of the six co-authors. Both Jane Bullock and George Haddow (refer to the link to the textbook to get their biographies) – were former senior FEMA employees, working closely with the Clinton Administration's FEMA Director James Lee Witt. Bullock – a career government worker – apparently had enough political connections to be chosen as Witt's Chief of Staff, and Haddow was sent over from the White House to work with her and Witt.

What is especially hilarious and ironic about their co-authoring this book is that Bullock and Haddow, along with Witt, did their utmost to squelch the use of taxpayer funds for anything resembling anti-terrorist preparedness measures while they were in FEMA's "head shed." Most money was reprogrammed into various federal disaster relief accounts and used for such critical priorities as paying for municipal snow removal in places like North Carolina and Alabama. (Check out Jim Bovard's Feeling Your Pain for more on FEMA's wasteful spending during the Clinton-Gore years. Like the Clinton Administration, the current Bush policy is to have FEMA shoveling out tons of money to buy the votes of disaster victims.)

When the Congress, during the latter years of the Clinton Administration, started to funnel money to various federal departments and agencies for enhancing the nation's preparedness against terrorist acts, Bullock and Haddow – who generally had their hands on virtually everything that went on at FEMA – were at the forefront in allowing employees to go on government-paid travel to talk about what types of anti-terrorist preparedness measures might be needed. Little, if anything, came of these boondoggle trips to meet with other federal, state, and local bureaucrats. And that was the way Bullock, Haddow and their political patrons wanted it. Activity abounded, but nothing substantive was done. And that was evident when 9/11 hit, with most bureaucrats (unsurprisingly) in the "sucking their thumb" mode, as the Bush Administration had done little to reorient government activities from Clinton Administration priorities.

Lest readers think I am unduly critical of a book I have not read, let me provide a bit of analysis of the outline that the publisher has provided at the web link. It reads like it was written by bureaucrats. In fact, the book appears to be (from the publisher's summary) loaded with "wire diagrams" showing the lines of authority within various departments and agencies as well as lists of contacts in the emergency preparedness and management area, all of which can easily change in one year if a department or agency is reorganized or if there is some staff turnover. The rest of the text contains a lot of history, which any astute researcher could pick up in a short time by doing some focused web searches on Alexa or Google or by going to the FEMA web site.

One chapter whose contents really rubbed me the wrong way was the first chapter, the outline of which stated that the book would cover pre-1992 domestic terrorist events (did this include the bombings in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s by the anti-Vietnam war radicals), the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (the outline at the web site mistakenly said it was in 1992), the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and the 9/11 World Trade Center and 9/11 Pentagon events.

My guess is that the chapter on domestic terrorist events is a rather one-sided exposition, and that it did not include all domestic state-sponsored terrorist events, namely those perpetrated by federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities of the United States. Such events include, but should certainly not be limited to: 1) the killing of Randy Weaver's wife and son at Ruby Ridge Idaho in 1992 by U.S. marshals; 2) the early 1993 killing of a very large number of the Branch Davidian religious group at their church and ranch in Waco, Texas in 1993 by the FBI; 3) the too numerous to list "mistaken dynamic entries" into citizens' homes conducted by various federal, state, and local law enforcement entities to capture alleged drug dealers; 4) the raid by Janet Reno's goons to get Elian Gonzalez sent back to Castro's Cuban paradise; and, 5) Internal Revenue Service harassment of taxpayers and unjust confiscation of their property.

Sadly, the federal end of the homeland security racket will continue as long as the money is appropriated by Congress. And folks like Bullock and Haddow, both of whom may have ambitions to get high-ranking posts in a Kerry Administration Homeland Security Department, will continue to milk the system for all it’s worth. Guess which textbook on homeland security would be used for "in-house" training at the Homeland Security Department? Real homeland security for the populace resulting from current or future federal spending will definitely be extremely costly for whatever benefits might be obtained.

Given that the risks of being killed or injured in a terrorist attack in the U.S. are already quite low (despite the drumbeat of fear coming out of the Bush Administration), there are only a few ways you can really provide additional protection for yourself, your family and your property. The good news is that none of these measures are dependent upon the whims of homeland security bureaucrats, and you will not have to get milked further in the homeland security scam by spending $69.95 on a book to find out what measures you can take. I'll suggest a few for free.

One measure is to live in a rural community with a low crime rate; such places are normally off the terrorists' radar screen. If you're stuck in the city and still frightened, get a job located outside of the city or in a suburb. That should generally keep you out of harm's way. Finally, if you still want an additional bit of protection and happen to live in a state that allows you to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun, get the permit and proper training and practice in the use of the gun. I know I always feel safer when I'm packing. And I do not have to depend upon some distant and faceless bureaucrat for my own personal homeland security protection plan.

Taking your own actions to prepare against terrorism is more likely to work and can help prevent additional milking of the taxpayers by the government end of the homeland security crowd.

Jim Grichar (aka Exx-Gman) [send him mail], formerly an economist with the federal government, writes to “un-spin” the federal government’s attempt to con the public. He teaches economics part-time at a community college and provides economic consulting services to the private sector.

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