Congressional Quarterly, June 22, 2005.
Title: “Billions in States’ Homeland Purchases Kept in the Dark”
Author: Eileen Sullivan
Faculty Evaluator: Noel Byrne
Student Researchers: Monica Moura and Gary Phillips
More than $8 billion in Homeland Security funds has been doled out to states since the September 11, 2001 attacks, but the public has little chance of knowing how this money is being spent.
Of the thirty-four states that responded to Congressional Quarterly’s inquiries on Homeland Security spending, twelve have laws or policies that preclude public disclosure of details on Homeland Security purchases. Many states have adopted relevant nondisclosure clauses to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The reason, state officials say, is that the information could be useful to terrorists.
Further hindering public demand for accountability, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesperson Marc Short confirms, DHS will not release its records on state spending of funds.
“These non-disclosure policies are troubling,” Steven Aftergood, director of the research organization Project on Government Secrecy, warns in an interview with CQ. “Accountability is the price we pay. We’re giving away the ability to hold public officials accountable. More than we value public oversight, we fear a nebulous terrorist threat, and this is changing the character of American political life.”
New York is one of many states that will disclose broad categories of purchases, such as personal protective gear, but will not specify type of equipment, which company makes it, how much it costs, or where it is going.
Roger Shatzkin, CQ’s interviewee on the subject of New Jersey’s policy on Homeland Security spending disclosure, offered this example: “If there was a potential flaw in equipment, that could be exploited [by terrorists], so the state would not want that information to become public.”
Aftergood counters that taxpayers have the right to know if law enforcement is using defective equipment: “One of the things that happens when you restrict information is that you reduce the motivation to fix problems and correct weaknesses.”
Colorado’s secrecy provision was enacted in 2003, but State Senator Bob Hagedorn says the law has been misinterpreted, authorizing automatic denial of access to any and all information regarding Homeland Security. Hagedorn told CQ that this broad application had never been his intention when sponsoring the bill. He warned against the shroud of secrecy as, in early 2005, state lawmakers discovered that Colorado did not have a Homeland Security plan, yet had spent $130 million in Homeland Security funds. “How the hell do you spend $130 million for homeland security when you don’t have a damn plan?” Hagedorn asked. “At this point, the public still does not have an official answer to that question,” he added.
CQ investigators confirm that federal lawmakers want to know more about how states are spending Homeland Security funds.
“There’s a delicate balance that needs to be struck between ensuring our security and not advertising our vulnerabilities, but also ensuring how our security money is being spent,” said a staff member for the House Homeland Security Committee who requested anonymity. “We’re spending billions of dollars every year on grants to state and local governments . . . there should be some expectation [of] accountability.”