From the howls of outrage from city-slicker Mayors Bloomberg and Williams, you'd think that the Department of Homeland Security had given Osama bin Laden the keys to their cities. Mikey and Tony were beefing about how little DOHS grant money was ladled out to them last week, their "applications" deemed worth a lot less than they were last year. The "grant" money is now regarded by its recipients as just another slab of federal pork, and DOHS is unrepentantly clueless about what the money is spent on, how the security of cities and towns is being achieved, and pretty much about everything else. DOHS remains an acronym properly pronounced only as the Homer Simpson exclamation.
This conclusion was, unfortunately, confirmed by the remarks of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. In my interview with Secretary Chertoff on last Friday's Hugh Hewitt Show, he said -- and declined to say -- a number of important things. (You can read the transcript here -- scroll down.)
We started, as needs be, with the issue of closing the border. I asked Mr. Chertoff -- in two different ways -- just when the border would be closed to illegal immigrants. His answer avoided the question both times, leaving in its wake the obvious real answer: not in this President's term of office. Chertoff claimed credit for progress toward "controlling" the border by putting National Guard troops there and working toward ending the inane "catch and release" program that turns illegals loose after they've been caught. Why haven't we done even this by now, nearly five years after 9/11? Please slap your forehead and say, "DOHS!"
If America's moms spent their household budgets the way the Department of Homeland Security spends our tax money, every six-year-old would have 29 pairs of shoes and no socks. We're used to reports of places such as the Northern Arctic Borough in Alaska using about a hundred large in DOHS funds on night vision goggles (the better with which to see your sled dogs at night, my dears). But when anti-cigarist Mikey Bloomberg claims the sky is falling because his cut of the DOHS funding is only $124.5 million this year -- and when Tony Williams says it's absurd to give Washington, D.C. "only" $46.5 million -- one might ask just what they've accomplished with the last few years' funding. DOHS doesn't know.
Chertoff's crew awards these hundreds of millions of dollars in accordance with "standards." He said, "What we do is we set some very specific standards for what grants have to do, and the kinds of capabilities they have to build. And anything that comes in and gets looked at has to meet one of those standards. We then make an evaluation of whether we think there's merit, and it's a sensible plan." If that were being done right, DOHS would be doing what it should: establishing parameters that have to be met and giving money only for those purposes. But that's not what's happening. "DOHS!!"
And why should any city -- Washington is the latest example -- be given less money because its grant application is poorly drafted compared to another city's? (Everyone who lives here knows that the D.C. government's sole talent -- writing parking tickets -- isn't easily transferred to anything else.) Chertoff told me that the state and city grant applications were judged -- with the locals' input -- by DOHS experts. But, I asked, why does the "competition" even take place? Doesn't DOHS know what's being accomplished and what isn't? Doesn't it have a way of setting goals and measuring progress toward them in consultation with the locals? Apparently not.
Chertoff denied it was a competition, saying the term is too "colloquial." Okay, but if it's not a competition, what is it when there's only a limited (though ghastly large) amount available and cities and states submit proposals to get a piece of it? If it walks like a pig, and oinks like a pig, and smells like a pig...
Every city and state should have a federally approved and classified plan -- reviewed and improved each year -- on the specifics it needs to accomplish in order to best protect its citizens and infrastructure. Every year's grant should be conditioned on how the money will be used -- and was used in the preceding year -- to achieve specific elements of it, as determined by DOHS experts. Those experts should be gathered from among the best in the nation: chiefs of police, border patrols, emergency management planners and the military. Not the "experts" DOHS sends around the country to do study after study. From people in the emergency services business in the field I hear a constant stream of complaints about how these Gucci-two-shoed twenty-somethings impose all sorts of immediate demands for information and then disappear.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF IS A VERY SMART and likeable guy. I feel bad for him, because he's in a very tough job for which he is unequipped. A military talent has to be brought to this military-political job. Wonder why there was no information on conditions in New Orleans immediately after Katrina passed over? Think of how you could pack a C-17 with cell phone transmitting equipment, including towers, and follow it with a coupla C-130s full of guys and gals who could set it up in a few hours. And then ask whether FEMA has a plan to do that in the next natural -- or unnatural disaster. What? They don't have such a plan even today? DOHS!!!
I asked Mr. Chertoff about the reports of Mexican forces crossing our borders illegally to cover coyotes smuggling illegal immigrants. He said there were such instances, and people when caught are arrested, and that we were getting more cooperation from the Mexican government in reducing these incidents. But why don't we just solve the problem by putting a few more National Guard types on the borders? The kind who fly A-10 Warthogs and can make a 30-millimeter argument in support of our out-gunned Border Patrol guys? Oh, sorry. That might offend Vicente Fox. And the mighty Mexican Air Force might start climbing high into the sun to challenge ours. Or not.
New York and Washington won't be left undefended because their grant money is cut for the coming year. And what they've accomplished with the preceding years' grants is questionable at best. Does your city or town have an emergency preparedness plan? Has anyone told you about how you or your business can help? Are your emergency preparedness folks -- police, fire, ambulance -- ready for what could be the most likely event in your area, or are they buying night-vision goggles for bicycle messengers? You'd better find out, because no one else is likely to. DOHS!!!!
Last Thursday, it took me almost two hours to get to the Fox News studios for a segment with Bill O'Reilly. It usually takes a bit more than half of that. Trouble was that two accidents on main roads had gridlocked everything around the downtown area for over six hours. Just think about that when you hear tell of the great emergency planning for evacuation in the event of a terrorist attack. DOHS!!!!!
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004) and, with Edward Timperlake, Showdown: Why China Wants War With the United States (Regnery, May 2006 -- click here to obtain a free chapter).