February 28, 2005

How Safe Are We?

by Ralph Nader from nader.org

George W. Bush often says that the safety of all Americans is his highest priority. He doesn't mean advancing vigorously the implementation of laws he has sworn to enforce against occupational disease and trauma, traffic injuries, air pollution, medical malpractice and other unsafe conditions that are taking the lives of many tens of thousands of Americans annually. What he means is commanding the "war on terrorism."

So let's evaluate him at his narrowest definition of safety. First, it is clear that the budget of the Department of Homeland Security ‚ a huge amalgam of government agencies proud to defend their turf even after their consolidation ‚ is out of control.

There are no cost-benefit criteria in operation about how to spend the burgeoning monies Congress and Bush are throwing at this Department. One of its arms is the Transportation Security Agency. You know, the agency that makes you take your shoes off or pats you down at airports. Its money is flying around as well.

Back in 2002, the Office of Management and Budget's chief, Mitch Daniels, told us that his office essentially has no control over the ways Homeland Security spends its budget. He agreed, in a series of meetings with me and our economist, James Love, to file a notice in the Federal Register inviting public comments about the best ways to place the Department under a cost-benefit regime.

The comments were duly received and analyzed by OMB staff and the General Services Administration. But in June 2003, Mr. Daniels resigned his post to run for the Governorship of Indiana. He won. His successor, Josh Bolten, a White House political appointee, has shown no interest, thus far, in continuing his successor's mission.

Just calling any expenditure "homeland security" defers most members of Congress from exercising any real oversight. So dollars are easy to waste because the symbol is nearly untouchable. But Mr. Bolten, who does not return our calls or respond to letters requesting a meeting, is the man who is supposed to be in charge of a tough OMB seeking prudent uses of tax dollars (with the help of several little-noticed Government Acountability Office (GAO) reports).

Click here for all of it

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