Handouts For The Homeland

Rep. Cox Says Bulk Of $10B Not Being Spent To Make America Safer

Since Sept. 11, Congress has appropriated nearly $10 billion for homeland security to protect Americans from terrorism. The money is being doled out over a four-year period, with much of it going to local police and emergency services charged with preventing and responding to terrorist attacks.

As Correspondent Steve Kroft reported last spring, congressional critics, armed with independent studies, are alleging the money is being squandered, and that programs are riddled with handouts that have little to do with making the country safer, and everything to do with restocking police and fire departments with all sorts of equipment that has nothing to do with terrorism.

It's touched off a fierce debate over how and where the billions are being spent.

Tiptonville, Tenn., probably isn't on any terrorist map of potential targets. It's not even on the rental car map, and neither is the road you take to get there.

Approximately 7,900 people live in the county, spread over 164 square miles, bordered by cotton fields and the Mississippi River. The nearest city, Memphis, is a two-hour drive.

Yet Tiptonville and Lake County are getting $183,000 in homeland security money from the federal government. And Mayor Macie Roberson believes it's money well spent.

Why would al Qaeda come to Tiptonville? "If I were al Qaeda, and I wanted to get Memphis, and I wanted to get some cities, even St. Louis is 100 miles, just about 250. But if I wanted to get those cities, I'd come to Tiptonville. No one would ever expect me here."

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 last murder occurred three years ago. The fire alarm hasn't gone off in three months. And the nearest nuclear power plant is a couple hundred miles away.

Tiptonville seems like one of the safest places in the country, so why do they need all this money? "If it's available, we're gonna apply for it," says Roberson.

And Tiptonville is the tip of the iceberg.

"There is a good deal of waste on homeland security expenditures that follows from the fact that we were in a big hurry after 9/11," says Rep. Chris Cox (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.