On the Use and Misuse of Homeland Security Grant Programs

By Dan Cadman on January 23, 2014

I happened to be watching a CNN program the other day and, in between news items, a commercial came on advertising the pleasures of taking the Pinellas County (Fla.) transit system. It shows a couple of "active seniors" having a grand time at various Pinellas venues that the announcer's voice tells us are all reachable through Pinellas' safe and secure trolley system. Fine and good.

But what caught my attention was the final board that ends the commercial, which contains this legend, "Paid for in part by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security" (DHS).

I suppose that the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), the quasi-governmental body that oversees the buses and trolleys, hangs its hat on the throw-away phrase tossed into the middle of the commercial, "PSTA has professional bus operators and was recognized for one of the best security programs in the nation" as a basis for using DHS money.

A little further checking reveals that this was one of a series of commercials put together for PSTA by a publicity firm called Global-5 Communications. Global-5 is a for-profit corporation that advertises itself to transportation systems as "revenue generation professionals".

I don't know how much the county paid Global-5, nor how much of that was funded by DHS, which provides state and local governments considerable funding for counterterrorism and public security purposes. What I do know is that this is the kind of specious expenditure of taxpayer funds that makes people like me raise our eyebrows.

At a time of fiscal austerity, and considering that not every locale deserving of counterterrorist funds gets anything at all, it seems unfair to me that monies provided by DHS should be spent in a fashion designed to generate revenues for PSTA.

Who, if anyone, is charged with auditing how DHS grants are used? And why is the Government Accountability Office not asking this same question?