Flipping around channels last night while eating dinner, I saw a report on 60 Minutes
about the allocation of funds for improving home land security. The report caught my interest because a small town in West Tennessee was feautred in the report--the small hamlet of Tiptonville.
Tiptonville is located in west Tennessee, about 2-hours from Memphis according to the report. The town has received $183,000 in federal money for beefing up homeland security.
By Washington standards, $183,000 isn’t a lot, but it's more federal money than Roberson has ever seen before. The Department of Homeland Security sent him a 13-page shopping list of approved items he could buy, so he went out and got a Gator, which is an all-terrain vehicle. He also bought a couple of defibrillators, one of which is being used at high school basketball games, and purchased protective suits for the volunteer fire department, in the unlikely event terror comes to Tiptonville.
The story interviewed Mayor Macie Roberson, who basically said--hey, if the money is there and we can qualify for it, we're gonna apply for it.
The story went on to detail how other communities are taking advantage of the money. A town in New Jersey used the grant to buy air conditioned garbage trucks and a town in Texas used the money to transport riding lawn mowers for their annual riding lawn mower races. Not exactly what I'd call the most judicious use of federal funds and I'm not quite sure why terrorists would take over a lawn mower riding race, but hey, what do I know?
Now, I'll agree that there are places that are going to take advantage of a new federal program that is handing out money. If anyone is shocked by that, please take one step forward. Nope, didn't think I'd get anyone on that (Hell, we've all seen those commericals on TV with that weird guy what looks like a Riddler costume telling you how the government will pay you money to start your own business, write a book, etc if you'll just send him $49,95 for his book detailing how to apply.)
But what stuck me most about this story was the big-city bias shown in the story by reporter Steve Kroft and California representative Chris Cox. Now, I can understand that maybe purhasing Segways for the bomb squad to get to the scene faster might seem excessive or wasteful, but there was this condescneding attitude of--look at all those crazy hicks who think they need some security. Their police and fire departments don't need to be upgraded--there's no crime or fires in small town and we certainly know Al Quaida wouldn't attack America's heartland. Not when there is the ripe jewel of New York City just waiting out there and we all know the sun rises and sets on New York City. (That last part was sarcasm in case you missed it).
Honestly, I get a bit tired of the entertainment and media elite thinking that the only reason middle America exists is for them to have to fly over when they commute from New York to L.A. And this report just seemed to reinforce that on many levels. Yes, I agree that these funds may not be being used for things that will impact home land security, but should we put all the blame on local officials? You know, if the intent of the $10 billion is for homeland security, then maybe the federal governement should have put tighter restrictions on how the money should be used. Setting up a huge pot of money without any definite definitions of how it can and should be used only opens up the door to people finding loopholes like this one. And in a time when local governments are becoming more and more strapped for cash to fund things, can you blame them for finding a new way to get the equipment needed for fire fighters and police officers to do their jobs more effectively? I mean, I think most locally elected officials would tell you that if there's a choice between applying for a federal grant to do something and raising taxes, they will apply for the federal grant every time. Local voters tend to remember the raising of taxes. (Of course, by following this logic, this huge pool of money has to come from somewhere so we're all paying for it in the long run...)
I'm not saying there isn't a lot of blame to go around..but there is blame to go around on both sides. Something that the piece on 60 Minutes
seemed to miss in my opinion.
posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/11/2005 08:26:00 AM