In the years since the Sept. 11 attacks, Texas has received at least $1.7 billion from the Department of Homeland Security, with little accountability over how lawmakers spent the money. Instead of using the federal DHS grants to strengthen the state’s security, officials often used the funds for personal extravagances like sports cars:
[A] Fort Worth Star-Telegram examination of thousands of purchases also found a a $21 fish tank in Seguin, a $24,000 latrine on wheels in Fort Worth, and a real pork project — a hog catcher in Liberty County.
Homeland Security paid for body bags, garbage bags and Ziploc bags.
If taxpayers had a say, they might have gone along with some purchases, such as $24,012 in body armor for the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority. But what about the two 2011 Camaros, each $30,884, used in Kleberg County border enforcement?
A report this year by the inspector general of the U.S. Homeland Security Department criticized the state’s management of Homeland Security grants from 2006 to 2008.
The audit concluded that Texas passed on Homeland Security funds to local governments “without adequately defined goals and objectives to strengthen preparedness and response to attacks or disasters.” Instead of monitoring how local officials were performing their responsibilities, the state asked them to rate their own performance. Predictably, without oversight from the state government, local officials used the money as they saw fit — which included expenses that had nothing to do with making citizens safer.
McClatchy reports that Gov. Rick Perry (R) appointed the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) in 2005 to hold the purse strings for Homeland Security funds. DPS, in turn, evaluated only about 60 recipients a year “with little or no emphasis on program performance.” Embarrassing incidents of waste ensued, like a $250,000 first-responder trailer that was parked and never used after it was purchased, or body armor that expired in 2003. Money was used for expensive and unproven technological gadgets, like an “eye ball camera” and “sprinkler head cameras,” as well as items like hats, neckties, glasses, drinking cups, dry erasers, and a tape measure with listening devices.
There were also no price controls or requirements that officials look for the best rates. The City of Alamo and El Paso county bought the same power binoculars for $220.03 and $369.99 a pair, respectively. Fort Worth used a grant to buy a $24,275 latrine while another city spent just $441 on a collapsible toilet. Liberty County used grants to buy $6,167 worth of animal crates and a hog catcher snare that documents say “will be used to aid in catching and controlling unruly swine at holding sites.”
McClatchy notes that while officials have been abusing DHS funds, “the Congressional Research Service has reported that likely terrorist targets, the nation’s half-million miles of oil and gas pipelines, have been left vulnerable.”