Friday, June 03, 2005

Inspector General Says Homeland Security Struggling With Port Security

During the presidential campaign, President Bush told Americans We're safer.

In this case, the conservative noise machine didn't have to work very hard repeating the Bush spin. Reporters in the mainstream media dutifully took notes. The television talking heads ran soundbites. And Americans, told by their leadership that a nuclear attack would be more likely to occur with John Kerry as president, bought the Bush spin line and re-elected George W.

JABBS readers have long suspected that the risk of terrorism has not improved substantially, in spite of the Bush spin. JABBS readers questioned why Republicans in Congress, carrying out the Bush administration's budget plans, killed Democratic-led spending bills for port security, aviation security, rail security, Coast Guard operations and other measures -- and why the mainstream media didn't hold the Republicans' feet to the fire.

So it comes as little surprise that the mainstream media also didn't pick up on testimony given May 17 by Richard Skinner, the acting inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, even though Skinner said that when it comes to port and maritime security, forget the Bush spin line -- we're not all that safe.


Skinner told the Senate Commerce Committee that the "Coast Guard faces significant barriers, most importantly the deteriorating readiness of its fleet assets." Skinner cited three major barriors to improving the Coast Guard's readiness:

-- No comprehensive performance management system, which "impedes the Coast Guard’s ability to gauge its performance, allocate resources effectively, and target areas for improved performance."

-- A declining number of experienced and trained personnel.

-- Growing demands from Homeland Security, such as added port, waterway and coastal security patrols, which "tax the Coast Guard’s infrastructure including its aging cutter and aircraft fleet. ... Currently, the Coast Guard is experiencing serious cracking in the hulls of the 110 foot cutters and engine power loss on the HH-65 Dolphin helicopters, resulting in operating restrictions."

In other words, while the Bush administration says it wants the Coast Guard to lead the way with maritime security, it isn't giving the guard the necessary tools -- like the money Senate Republicans wouldn't consider last fall.


Further hurting the U.S. efforts is the poor results from Homeland Security's Port Security Grant Program, which Skinner said is "designed to reduce the vulnerability of American ports to potential terrorist attacks by enhancing facility and operational security."

Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration collaborated to award more than $560 million for over 1,200 projects. But according to Skinner, the program has thus far been ineffective.

The grant program was designed to spread money among a broad mix of applicants, which reduced the amount of money going toward critical needs. "(P)ort security grant award decisions were made without sufficient information about our national priorities," Skinner said.

"The program funded projects despite dubious scores by its evaluators against key criteria, raising questions about the merits of 258 projects costing $67 million," he said. "It appeared that headquarters and field reviewers did not share a common understanding of program objectives or eligibility criteria. Frequently, they did not agree about the eligibility or merit of projects and did not consistently document their rationale for recommending or not recommending funding."

In addition, the program forwarded an additional 82 projects to the Office of Domestic Preparedness to be funded at a cost of $75 million under the Urban Area Security Initiative, Skinner said, despite previously determining that these projects did not merit funding.

So with all these dubious grants, maybe it shouldn't be completely surprising that of $515 million awarded between June 2002 and December 2003, only $106.9 million, or 21%, had been expended as of Sept. 30, 2004.

"The program had not yet achieved its intended results in the form of actual improvements to port security," Skinner said.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Bush Administration gets away with underfunding homeland security and jeopardizing the safety of the country (in direct contradiction of earlier claims and representations), because the mainstream media unexcusably and shamefully fails to cover the kind of information above.
As taxpayers concerned about being attacked at home following 9-11 don't we deserve so much?!
If such info was reported, would the populace continue to hold onto the Great Myth that Bush is doing the upmost to protect us from terrorism?
What is the media scared of?
As long as the Bush Administration can continue to successfully relegate such news to "liberal" media and blogs, it will never be construed as anything more than opinion.

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm usually on the same side as JABBS but I think there are some questions to be raised with the logic here.

Now I was in Manhattan on the morning of September 11th, 2001, and so was my family. We, horribly, could watch the towers burning with our own eyes. So "Homeland Security" is not such an abstract issue for me as it might be for most Americans.

Later we read and heard about anthrax showing up in people's houses, in the mail, several in New York, and we weren't safe in our own homes any more. It's a terrible feeling of helplessness.

Dying of anthrax is a pretty horrible thought, but how about small pox? Or radiation cancer? How about watching your 5 year old daughter die of any of those?

Look, the point is this is really, really serious sh*t. It's important that we are talking about security but...

If the anthrax mailer is anything like the Uni-bomber, the most expensive Coast Guard in the universe won't make a bit of difference.

Spend hundreds of millions, or billions, or trillions on the Coast Guard and you wouldn't have stopped 9/11. The mass murderers who did that all came here legally, and didn't need to smuggle any weapons across our borders.

The children who died in the Murrow Federal Building bombing wouldn't have been saved by a more expensive Coast Guard either.

Now if Coast Guard needs money, that's a fair debate, but lets not fool ourselves. Unless Al Queda is planning on coming over in a submarine this time that isn't the smartest place to invest our limited resources.

This isn't a spending contest. We cannot just pay our way out of this problem. Consider the terror that could be caused by a few sticks of dynamite on a bus or a few drops of cyanide solution in the supermarket and I think you will have to agree that we cannot stop terrorism militarily.

In my opinion we need to be smarter. Better intelligence, better relationships with foreign agencies, better investigations and infiltration. And just as importantly we need to identify and undermine the causes of terrorism.

8:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

okay, now I'm officially depressed.

12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Throwing money at the problem may not be the answer, but that's not the question at hand.

The question at hand is that our president SAYS he is making us safer, and our Republicans in Congress SAY they are making us safer. But the Inspector General for Homeland Security is talking about coast guard ships with cracked hulls and antiquated equipment unable to detect depleted uranium in cargo, and there have been other similar reports regarding a lack of protection for nuclear and chemical plants in the U.S., and a lack of manpower to search cargo hulls and their contents on commercial airplanes (vs. just checking passengers), and a lack of money and manpower for rail security.

Yes, someone could drive a truck full of dynamite and blow up a building in New York City, or a supermarket in Nebraska, or the Super Bowl. And yes, the 9/11 hijackers used airplanes as suicide bombers.

The army or the police can't be everywhere at once. And Americans don't want a police state.

But it seems that increasing security for major transportation access points -- rail, air and sea, not to mention our border patrols, which JABBS wrote about earlier -- makes sense. And it's hypocritical for the Republican leadership to say they are doing such great things, when the Inspector General is saying that the security system is inefficient, antiquated, and in need of money and manpower.

I'm sorry, but I just am more likely to believe an Inspector General than a politician.

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are rushing into the arms of the fallacy: more money to fix broken coast guard ships = safety from terrorism.

The problem is, as anybody in the field will admit, it only takes one opening for a terrorist to succeed: "they only have to be lucky once, we have to be lucky 100% of the time."

Of course I can't argue that a better coast guard isn't a good thing - I concede that. Give them money, I'll happily pony up more taxes for it.

But let's stop confusing the issues. The failure of the Bush Admin to make real inroads against terrorism is not because of a lack of military force.

Now, if the coast guard were engaged in intelligence gathering, I would agree that they could actually make a difference in stopping the next "big one." That's where, I would argue, most of our efforts should be focused; and where Bush and co. are failing the most.

5:04 AM  

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