Government Spending

Editor's Note: Fighting Yesterday's Battles Today

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Rest easy, America. As a response to the 9/11 attacks, the Princeton, New Jersey, Fire Department now owns Nautilus exercise equipment, free weights, and a Bowflex machine. The police dogs of Columbus, Ohio, are protected by Kevlar vests, thank God. Mason County, Washington, is the proud owner of a half-dozen state-of-the-art emergency radios (never mind that they are incompatible with existing county radios).

All of these crucial purchases–and many more like them–were paid for with homeland security grants. Doesn't it make you feel more secure that $100,000 in such money went to fund the federal Child Pornography Tipline? That $38 million went to cover fire claims related to the April 2001 Cerro Grande Fire in New Mexico? And that $2.5 billion went to "highway security"–that is, building and improving roads? Stand up and cheer already. Don't you know there's a war on?

Our cover story, by American Enterprise Institute research scholar Veronique de Rugy, documents "the sorry state–and stunning waste–of homeland security spending" (see "Are We Ready for the Next 9/11?," page 24). Those responsible for homeland security, whether in the Department of Homeland Security, related agencies, the White House, or Congress, have created a funding system that virtually guarantees waste. There's no effective oversight of spending, and there's little or no political will to prioritize spending so that the most-likely targets receive the most protection. That explains why, on a per capita basis, the U.S. Virgin Islands gets more funding than New York City, Chicago, or Washington, D.C. Worse, more energy is spent "preventing yesterday's attack" than tomorrow's. "Inappropriate security spending is often a knee-jerk reaction to the news of the day," explains de Rugy. Thus, last July's attacks on London's subways led to calls for more money to protect American public transit systems rather than a re-evaluation of existing policy.

A similar backward-looking mentality pervades the Bush administration's efforts to win hearts and minds in the Middle East, reports Associate Editor Matt Welch (see "Old Propaganda and New," page 16). Without considering the changed nature of media, the president has taken a page from Cold War propaganda efforts and, among other things, secretly planted pro-U.S. stories in the Iraqi press–a strategy that backfired dramatically when uncovered late last year. Between the fake stories and clumsy efforts such as the Arabic-language Radio Sawa, writes Welch, the administration has eschewed one of its "most potent weapons: the truth." Rather than tell the American version of events straightforwardly and honestly, the government has chosen to undermine its credibility with subterfuge.