Zombies are chasing us over the edge of the fiscal cliff

Sure, that could be a metaphor for the stubbornly undead Bush-era tax cuts, but it's not. In October, Halo Corporation included a detailed zombie attack as part of a counterterrorism summit attended by law enforcement and military. The issue? The Department of Homeland Security approved the use of Urban Area Security Initiative  (UASI) funds to pay the $1,000 admission fee for some of the attendees.

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), released a report last week, "Safety at Any Price," that questions such spending.  The Senator was also the impetus behind a highly critical report on fusion centers released in October by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Echoing concerns about wasteful spending at fusion centers, Senator Coburn criticizes the waste he found in the UASI program. The report notes:

Significant evidence suggests the program is struggling to demonstrate how it is making U.S. cities less vulnerable to attack and more prepared if one were to occur- despite receiving $7.1 billion in federal funding since 2003.

UASI is ostensibly a federal grants program for:

...high-threat, high-density urban areas, and assists them in building an enhanced and sustainable capacity to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism.

UASI funds a range of programs, from training to weapons purchases. While this may seem like a good idea in theory, the problem is that some of the spending is ominous, while some is merely ridiculous. For example, Berkeley, CA, wanted to purchase an armored vehicle with UASI funds.  Pittsburg, PA spent $80,000 on long range acoustic devices:

...which is mounted on a truck and emits an ear-splitting sound. Local officials used it to disperse G-20 protestors, giving one bystander permanent hearing loss, but which they called 'a kinder and gentler way to get people to leave.'

On the ridiculous side, of course, are zombies. Another example of such questionable spending is the $11,700 in UASI funds used to purchase sno-cone machines for 13 counties in MIchigan. As Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert notes:

These soft-on-terror-crats are mischaracterizing these machines as a frivolous waste of tax money…but if anything it is time to make more of these purchases. There's no reason fighting terror can't be fun!

The machines were touted as being useful for creating ice packs, and for use as an attraction at public events.

UASI funds were originally intended for high-profile areas like New York. However, they have since been spread across the US as smaller cities, unlikely to be strategic targets for acts of terrorism, compete for UASI grants. As the Senator's report makes clear, these grants have not only outlived their usefulness, they are also assisting local law enforcement in violating civil liberties.  His report comes while the President and Speaker of the House Jon Boehner are heatedly negotiating over the impending fiscal cliff. 

Fortunately, like other problematic federal policies, activists locally can address these problematic funds. Local law enforcement often applies for UASI grants with little oversight from elected officials. However, in Berkeley, CA, the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley both prevented the purchase of the armored vehicle that the Berkeley Police Department wanted to purchase and also successfully lobbied for a city policy that will require all future grant requests to be reviewed by the city council. In Alameda County, CA, a  grassroots coalition has formed to ensure that the Sheriff does not purchase a drone with UASI funds with no oversight.

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