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Unspending Homeland Security Budgets

Homeland security is the name of a Cabinet level agency of the federal government, and a way to describe the subject of protecting the United States and its citizens from a repeat of the terorrist attacks of September 11th, 2001. Since that date, it has also become a way of describing a state of mind. We all want to be and to feel secure. The questions can be asked then, "what role does the Government play in ensuring our security" and "how much is our security worth?"

The argument sort of goes like this: "Government spends too much money." The counterargument goes like this: "Government does spend enough money." Today's U.S.A. Today raises an important question.

Almost $5 billion of $16.04 billion in grants approved by Congress for states and Washington, D.C., from fiscal 2002 to 2007 remain in federal coffers, according to Homeland Security Department budget figures. That's fueled concerns in the Bush administration and Congress that the government has been dishing out money faster than local governments can spend it.

This revelation comes at the time when the White House and Congress differ on how much money to allocate to the Department of Homeland Security for upcoming Fiscal Year 2008. The White House request of $2.2 billion was doubled by the House (and the Senate is expected to follow suit). So the White House contends that the increases above the request are unwarranted. The former Chairman of the House Appropriation Sub-committee for Homeland Security, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) says "Why put billions more dollars in the hopper when it's full already?"

Much of the money was allocated for programs created after Spetember 11th to tighten security and pay for equipment and training. Among the explanations for the unspent allocations are:

  • the equipment is backordered
  • the money is obligated for multi-year projects
  • requirements to "adhere to strict bidding and contracting rules before the money can be spent."

There should be a way of reconciling the funds already allocated to the funds actually committed. That would give everyone an idea of how much of the $5 billion in "unspent" funding was truly there, simply sitting in the federal holding accounts. Without such a reconciliation, it is hard to say for sure whether Congressman Rogers is right or not. However, I suspect that he's more right than wrong.

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