With all this talk about fiscal cliffs and hard-to-swallow budget cuts, everyone’s taking a closer look at how we, as a community, state or country, choose to spend our money.
One of those interested in federally wasted dollars is Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who is a frequent critic of the Department of Homeland Security. (And we’re sure you’ve heard plenty of complaints regarding that department over the years, too.)
This week’s latest complaint: A staged zombie apocalypse.
Yes, you read that right.
"This is a very real exercise, this is not some type of big costume party," Brad Barker, president of Halo Corp., the security firm which hosted the Oct. 31 training demonstration, was reported as saying by Military.com.
"In the scenario," Military.com’s report states, "a VIP and his personal detail are trapped in a village, surrounded by zombies, when a bomb explodes. The VIP is wounded and his team must move through the town while dodging bullets and shooting back at invading zombies. At one point, some members of the team are bitten by zombies and must be taken to a field medical facility for decontamination and treatment."
Treatment?! If we’ve learned anything from Hollywood movies, best-selling books and video games, it’s that there is no treatment. The bitten will become a zombie and must be "dealt with.
All kidding aside, this was a serious training exercise in which, according to a report by the Huffington Post, "DHS authorized up to $1,000 a head for law enforcers to attend a five-day security conference at a ‘paradise’ island getaway with security industry companies." The simulated zombie attack was "the centerpiece."
While the zombie -- let’s call it motif -- appears an attempt to add a little fun to the proceedings, Sen. Coburn is curious why money from the Urban Area Security Initiative and state homeland security programs was being used so law enforcers could bask in "the exotic beauty and lush grandeur of this unique island setting that creates a perfect backdrop for the Halo Counter-Terrorism Summit," as Halo Corp. described it. Also of note: "This luxury resort features over 460 guestrooms, five pools, three fantastic restaurants overlooking the bay, a world-class spa and state-of-the-art fitness center."
Coburn’s report accuses the government of effectively subsidizing what amounted to a sales opportunity for Halo and other security firms -- presumably to attract future employees.
While the zombie training offers shock value, a report from Sen. Coburn offers a laundry list of further spending wastes, or at the very least items the federal government should not be paying for through a $35 billion homeland security grant program. Of note:
-- a $98,000 dive robot for Columbus, Ohio, used to find "sunken treasure."
-- $6,200 worth of sno-cone machines in Michigan.
-- a $69,000 "Neoteric hovercraft" for search and rescue operations in Indiana unrelated to terrorism.
-- $6.2 million for equipment that captures and compares license plate numbers in California, even though no one ever demonstrated that it was being used to hunt terrorism suspects instead of car thieves.
-- and, right in our own backyard, the almost $300,000 Bearcat armored vehicle purchased in Keene, N.H.
"If in the days after 9/11 lawmakers were able to cast their gaze forward 10 years, I imagine they would be surprised to see how a counter-terrorism initiative aimed at protecting our largest cities has transformed into another parochial grant program," Coburn stated in a letter accompanying the report. "We would have been frustrated to learn that limited federal resources were now subsidizing the purchase of low-priority items."
Of course, DHS defended the spending.
"We have seen the value of these grants time and again," DHS spokesman Matthew Chandler stated in a release. "As envisioned by Congress, these grants have directly supported the development and sustainment of core state and local capabilities ... from helping to save lives and minimize damage during the tornadoes in the South and Midwest, Hurricanes Irene and Sandy to building a national network of fusion centers to strengthen critical information sharing and terrorism prevention."
We don’t doubt that much good comes from some, if not most, of these programs. That said, someone, somewhere still needs to be overseeing the process. Otherwise, we’re sitting here talking about slashes to health and human service programs while some people are getting an all-expense paid vacation to a luxury resort to live out at Hollywood dream.
Sure, some of us would love to experience a zombie apocalypse -- minus the danger -- as much as the next guy, but let’s make sure the country’s not headed for a fiscal cliff first, OK?