In voting to prop up funding for COPS and fire grants—two discredited programs that fail to deliver any bang for our security bucks—the House calls in to question its credibility that it is going to cut spending while not compromising on our security.
What security hawk could argue that when it comes to government spending, “everything,” including security spending, is on the table? After all, defense is under-funded: The Pentagon has been on a decades-long “procurement holiday,” failing to modernize its aging fleet of vehicles, ships, and planes. Money ill-spent elsewhere could go toward buying the equipment our men and women will need to defend us in the years ahead. As for homeland security, “feel-good” programs that spread federal largesse but do little to actually make us safer drain dollars from the work that Washington really needs to be doing.
Two votes yesterday call into question whether the House is really making tough calls or just talking tough.
First, by a vote of 228–203, $300 million in funding was restored for the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, doubling the size of the program. Heritage has studied the COPS program to death and found that rather than enhancing public safety, it has actually done the opposite. After an exorbitant amount of money, “COPS failed to reach its goal of adding 100,000 additional police officers despite spending almost $11 billion from FY 1995 to FY 2003. Despite a sizeable monetary investment, thorough and independent evaluations of the COPS program have found that it failed to achieve its primary goal of placing an additional 100,000 officers on the streets.”
Furthermore, COPS grants were frequently abused or misspent. The whole concept of COPS has proven to be completely wrongheaded. Large federal grants distributed for use at the discretion of state and local police departments discourage accountability and efficiency. They severely undermine the incentives for state and local governments to use taxpayer money efficiently by disconnecting the receipt and use of that money from political accountability for using it wisely and effectively.
Second, the House increased Homeland Security firefighter grants by over $500 million to a total of over $800 million. This program has also been proven demonstrably wasteful. The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis evaluated the effectiveness of fire grants by matching fire grant award data to the National Fire Incident Reporting System, an incident-based database of fire-related emergencies reported by fire departments. The Heritage evaluation compared fire departments that received grants to fire departments that did not receive grants. In addition, the evaluation compared the impact of the grants before and after grant-funded fire departments received federal assistance. The results: Fire grants were ineffective at reducing fire casualties, failing to reduce deaths and injuries for either firefighters or civilians. Without receiving fire grants, comparison fire departments were just as successful at preventing fire casualties as grant-funded fire departments.
The bottom line is that the facts and figure prove that both programs are a waste of money—yet the House pumped money into them anyway. Small coincidence that these programs bring the bacon back home to communities all across the country?
Meanwhile, the House seems ready to line up and cut at least $13 billion from the defense budget, though there is plenty of evidence to show that these impacts will hurt the troops, undermine readiness, and drive up the cost of buying new equipment over the long term.
Cutting real programs and protecting pork is not how the nation expects Congress to address the challenge of funding the nation’s security.