Nickel and diming Homeland Security

This is a comparison of Homeland Security spending with its Iraq war equivalent. Bush administration officials used to say that the war on terrorism had to be fought “in Baghdad, not Boston.” You don’t hear that line much anymore, yet it’s clearly reflected in the administration’s spending priorities. The war in Iraq so far has cost $150 billion; for the Department of Homeland Security, the administration has allocated $27 billion this year, with the bulk of that going to the routine operations of agencies such as the Customs Service. When it comes to new programs to make planes, trains, ports and urban centers safer, there’s precious little left over—which is why a range of critics, from local firefighters to Republican members of Congress, have lambasted Bush for shortchanging the nation’s true homeland security needs. Below, a sample of unmet needs, along with Bush’s budget allocations, compared with the time it takes to burn through the same amount in Iraq.

• Amount needed for basic security upgrades for subway and commuter trains in large cities: $6 billion (Iraq spending equivalent: 20 days). Bush budget allocation for train security: $100 million (Iraq equivalent: 8 hours).

• Amount needed to equip all U.S. airports with machines that screen baggage for explosives: $3 billion (Iraq equivalent: 10 days). Bush budget allocation for baggage-screening machines: $400 million (Iraq equivalent: 32 hours).

• Amount needed for security upgrades at 361 U.S. ports: $1.1 billion (Iraq equivalent: 4 days). Bush budget allocation for port security: $210 million (Iraq equivalent: 17 hours).

• Amount needed to buy radiation portals for U.S. ports to detect dirty bombs in cargo: $290 million (Iraq equivalent: 23 hours). Bush budget allocation for radiation portals: $43 million (Iraq equivalent: 3 hours).

• Amount needed to help local firefighters prepare for terrorist attacks: $36.8 billion (Iraq equivalent: 122 days). Bush budget allocation for firefighter grants: $500 million (Iraq equivalent: 40 hours).

• Amount needed to get local emergency medical crews ready for terrorist atttacks: $1.4 billion (Iraq equivalent: 5 days). Bush budget allocation for emergency medical training grants prior to eliminating program altogether: $50 million (Iraq equivalent: 4 hours).

(Sources: American Public Transportation Association, FY 2005 Budget, Government Accountability Office, Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. Coast Guard, House Appropriations Committee.)

This article has been made possible by the Foundation for National Progress, the Investigative Fund of Mother Jones magazine. © 2004 The Foundation for National Progress.