Coburn adds snow-cone machines, armored-vehicle pumpkin festival protection to his hit list

Susan Walsh/AP file photo

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has a few more spending cuts to put on the fiscal-cliff negotiating table.

His solution? Start with the hundreds of thousands going to underwater-robot development in Ohio or armored-vehicle protection for a pumpkin festival in New Hampshire.

Coburn, who is known for his annual "Wastebook" report on government spending he deems unnecessary and frivolous, took on a new, more specific target in the latest report he released on Wednesday: the Homeland Security Department.

His office spent a year reviewing DHS grant programs within the Urban Areas Security Initiative, which provides funds to secure cities most at risk of a potential terrorist attack. Currently, 31 cities are eligible for the funds, and UASI had a budget of over $490 million for fiscal 2012, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the DHS agency that specifically oversees UASI.

The report, entitled "Safety at Any Price: Assessing the Impact of Homeland Security Spending in U.S. Cities," highlights a number of examples of grant money spent on programs without obvious links to terrorism or preparedness. Some offices purchased supplies like a color printer; others paid officers' overtime. Several offices spent tens of thousands on unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. Officials in Michigan purchased snow-cone machines, while others in Illinois spent millions on a failed video-surveillance system.

"Every dollar misspent in the name of security weakens our already precarious economic condition, indebts us to foreign nations, and shackles the future of our children and grandchildren," Coburn wrote in a forward to the report.

In addition to highlighting specific programs that Coburn considers a misuse of funds, the report notes that DHS failed to establish specific metrics that could prove the spending made Americans safer. According to his report, FEMA could not explain, when asked, how the UASI program prepared the nation for another potential attack.

DHS, however, disagrees with Coburn's position on the value of the grants. Spokesman Matt Chandler told the Alley the grants have directly supported the development and sustainment of preparedness programs, including those that helped responders minimize damage from hurricanes Irene and Sandy.

Chandler also said DHS has already adapted its program for fiscal 2013, based on lessons learned and information about evolving threats. The proposed program, he said, will take a "more targeted approach to grant funding" to ensure taxpayer dollars are used effectively. He specifically mentioned that the new efforts will incorporate measures of effectiveness to address accountability.

"FEMA is committed to being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars and ensuring that all federal grant dollars that we disburse are used as intended -- to strengthen our resilience against all hazards and make our communities safer places to live," he said in an email.

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