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Homeland Security Transparency

Congress has taken a step to shine a little more light on how our tax dollars are being spent to protect the homeland. The House of Representatives has passed a bill requiring public disclosure of counter-terrorism spending by states and cities receiving federal grants from the Department of Homeland Security, created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Under the Homeland Security Transparency Act, which passed Wednesday night in a 296 to 126 floor vote as part of the annual DHS authorization bill, grant recipients must report their spending every quarter, and DHS must post the data on its website.

In March, we reported on the efforts of the bill's sponsors – Democrat Anthony Weiner of New York and Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona – to expose what they considered pork barrel "boondoggles" among the $2 billion DHS doles out annually to local emergency responders.

For example, the congressman lamented the Columbus, Ohio, police department spending $7,348 on 11 bulletproof vests for dogs in 2005. (Our viewer E-mail box overflowed with negative comments from dog lovers when we reported their complaint.) The congressmen also pointed to an Alaskan fishing village that spent $202,000 on cameras to provide 24/7 surveillance of itself and a Texas town that spent $30,000 on a security trailer stationed at an annual mushroom festival.

Congress' goal is to create an accessible central depository of homeland security grants where none currently exists. No word on when the Senate may take up the transparency bill.

"There should be no uncertainty about our willingness to be as transparent as we can possibly be, not only about grant programs but our entire budget," says DHS spokesman Russ Knocke. A bigger obstacle may be getting the states to report how they spend the federal funds.

Another issue for lawmakers to tackle is the formula they created whereby every one of our 50 states receives a fixed minimum percentage of DHS grants, no matter their risk assessment.

Rep. Weiner has a bill to address that too – the Targeting Homeland Security Resources Effectively Against Terrorism Act, or THREAT, which would reduce the number of urban areas eligible for the grants from the 45 that currently receive funds to just 15.

This House bill passage was followed today by DHS awarding $445 million in grants for port and mass transit security…all over the country.

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