House Republicans are funneling millions of dollars in “homeland security” funds to buses that take people on tours for bachelorette parties and other private events, even though no one thinks terrorists have any interest in targeting the shuttles.
The Department of Homeland Security doesn’t want the program, and the bus companies use the money for upgrades they wanted anyway, like GPS systems that help them manage their schedules.
The DHS Intercity Bus Security Grant Program (IBSGP) gives $3 million a year to companies that fill out a simple application. Only one state ever mentioned buses in surveys about potential terrorist threats, and the applying companies could barely pretend the program had much to do with terrorism, or that the spending was even particularly high priority for their businesses.
“Completed installation of 2 light polls [sic] to provide energy-efficient lighting to new rear parking area,” one wrote in grant paperwork. “Management is very happy with the ability to track the buses using GPS,” another said. “Management and staff feel much safer on the premises with fencing.”
The Senate Homeland Security Committee, led by Chairman Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, called out the program as an example of crooked and unnecessary corporate welfare, as did Sen. Jeff Flake, a waste-conscious Arizona Republican, in recent letters to DHS.
What they found was that the Obama administration agreed that the spending served no purpose, but that House Republicans were responsible for keeping the program alive.
“Many charter companies receiving funds from the IBSGP serve mainly private events, such as weddings,” Johnson and Flake wrote, questioning “whether this program is actually reducing the risk or impact of terrorism.”
They pointed to buses that wind through barely-populated areas for Napa Valley winery tours and casino buses providing “for a care-free day of thrilling gaming,” and noted that any number of targets would be more likely targets for terrorist attacks.
White Knight, which received $50,000, advertises its “party bus,” a “nightclub on wheels” with a “laser light show” and “LED mood lighting” in the not-exactly-terrorism-hotspot of Springfield, Illinois. It got funding for “a web based software system … that allows White Knights management and dispatch to know the exact location of the fleet.”
While that makes obvious business sense, the grant application gave no indication that it had reason to fear hijacking of buses, or how the GPS would stop an attack in progress.
And the company told the government that much of the grant funding it received actually went to pay lawyers and accountants to process grant paperwork.
Other grantees–who are largely highly profitable companies–installed security cameras, which business owners also routinely pay for on their own and are generally geared to prosecuting petty crime, not stopping terrorism.
“Despite the program’s authorization, the Administration has not requested funding for the Intercity Bus Security Grant Program,” DHS responded.
In 2011, the Office of Management and Budget, in a report on recommended savings opportunities, said “The funding has gone to private sector entities for business investments that they could be making without Federal funding… this program should be eliminated in favor of funding initiatives aimed at mitigating verified transit threats.”
But “per Congress’s appropriation, the Department of Homeland Security has, and will, administer the Intercity Bus Security Grant Program,” DHS wrote.
Rep. John Carter, a Texas Republican, is chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee, which has insisted that DHS spend millions annually for the program.
Spokeswomen for Carter and Rep. Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican who heads the full appropriations committee, refused to tell the Daily Caller News Foundation why they insist on the funding or to justify it.
Spending that hardly seems to make anyone safer, but which is railroaded through with emotional, fear-based appeals about unspecified safety concerns is sometimes called “security theater.”
“The problem with the program isn’t just that the threat to buses is limited; it’s also that the spending seems unlikely to lower the minor risk that a bus gets attacked. And you can ask why taxpayers should assume the cost of private enterprise’s security on top of the vast public security spending we already fund,” said Benjamin Friedman, a national security scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute.
Congressional Republicans, if they are concerned about spending, should “apply this kind of scrutiny to homeland security grants in general, or even the whole DHS budget, which is full of waste,” he said.
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