Monday, June 19, 2006

Homeland Security Inc. Profiting From Terror At Our Expense

Because of my experience as a rape survivor, I have a low tolerance for exploitive people, especially those who pose as upstanding citizens. This topic concerns me because those who profit from questionable practices harm others through their actions even when they don't see it that way.

From the NY Times:

More than two-thirds of the [Homeland Security] department's most senior executives in its first years have moved through the revolving door. That pattern raises questions for some former officials. "People have a right to make a living," said Clark Kent Ervin, the former inspector general of the department, who now works at the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan public policy research center. "But working virtually immediately for a company that is bidding for work in an area where you were just setting the policy — that is too close. It is almost incestuous."

Federal law prohibits senior executive branch officials from lobbying former government colleagues or subordinates for at least a year after leaving public service. But by exploiting loopholes in the law — including one provision drawn up by department executives to facilitate their entry into the business world — it is often easy for former officials to do just that. Michael J. Petrucelli, for example, who was once acting director of citizenship and immigration services, moved within months of leaving his post in July 2005 to a job in which he lobbied the Coast Guard, another unit of the department, to test a power-supply device made by his new employer, GridPoint.

This trend is disturbing to me for two main reasons. The first reason is that because insiders know how to work systems they helped create, they can make money for themselves and their firms with little or no return in improved national security. And wasted homeland security money can mean lives lost.

If Homeland Security officials plan to make the jump to an area of the private sector that works with Homeland Security, their decisions as government employees will be colored by their plans. As they do this they may rationalize that they are the best stewards for these funds because they are experts and they may even tell themselves that more money will be wasted if this same money goes anywhere else.

Everybody's looking out for number one, right? So it might as well be them.

The second reason is that the federal tax money that gets funneled to these people and the companies they work for often are quietly funneled out of "less urgent" programs that if neglected can cost lives. Maybe a sex offender with violent tendencies goes unmonitored until it's too late or a child dies of lead poisoning after swallowing a piece of jewelry or an aging bridge suddenly gives way.

But like hurricanes before Katrina hit, these scenarios are less menacing than the war on terror.

With the No Child Left Behind law, public schools that don't meet set metrics lose funding even if what they needed was more money to get the job done. But when it comes to private companies that underperform in protecting our country, they are often rewarded with even bigger contracts. The official line is, "The job was more complicated than anticipated."

Overcharging the government millions of dollars or failing to do work that was paid for are dismissed as if these failures were nothing more than meaningless clerical errors.

Compare that to the reaction to cases of fraud committed by private citizens who claimed to be Katrina survivors. They are horrid people -- unlike those who manipulate the workings of government for corporate gain -- who are all just being good business people.


Exploiters are exploiters, whether they be in business suits or they claim to have lost everything. The visuals are just better when a Katrina relief debit card is used to pay for a Hawaiian vacation.

To demand that we look the other way because "we live in a post 9/11 world" is to demand that we put our country's fate in the hands of profiteers. And that will never make us safer or more secure in our liberty.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:08 AM   0 comments links to this post


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