Happy Holidays From Homeland Security
It may seem like decades, but it was just about a year ago that President Bush signed legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security and appointed Tom Ridge to be its head. To celebrate the anniversary, Secretary Ridge was scheduled to stop by and see David Letterman on CBS' "Late Show." But if you are one of those who are concerned that you haven't heard from Secretary Ridge in much too long and are yearning for the good old days when you could depend on an alert elevation every few weeks -- especially during the holiday season -- rest easy. Over at the Dept.'s Web site -- where the catchphrase is "Terrorism forces us to make a choice. Don't be afraid... Be Ready" -- there's plenty in the works.
The reason you haven't learned about many of the homeland security projects is because since the February 2003 duct tape/plastic sheeting brouhaha that emptied hardware store shelves across the country of duct tape and provided the nation's comedians and political cartoonists with a barrelful of new material, the Department has been keeping somewhat of a lower profile. (For more on duct tape, see Duct tape fantasies: Americans are ducting up and freaking out. Are you happy now, Mr. President?, and for a whole bunch of duct tape-related cartoons, see octanecreative.com.)
Cashing in on Homeland Security
I'm not sure how much of it is related to making you and your family safer, but homeland security is providing business opportunities galore. The "2004 Homeland & Global Security Summit," organized by Equity International, "the leader in facilitating the corporate involvement in homeland security programs," will hold a major gathering of White House, Congressional, Defense, Administration, and homeland security experts in Washington, D.C. from March 31-April 1.
The purpose of the conference is to brief companies looking to cash in on lucrative homeland security contracts on: federal homeland security spending in 2004 and 2005; state, local, and First Responder spending in 2004 and 2005; Department of Defense priorities and procurement procedures for homeland security spending; Transportation Security Administration priorities and procurement procedures for homeland security spending; Priorities and procurement procedures for health security, food security, and bio terrorism preparedness and response; IT/network security spending and procurement; Security priorities and spending of allied countries around the world; and how to win homeland and global security contracts.
In mid-December, the Minority Business Round Table (MBRT), a national organization of minority-business chief executive officers, will be hosting a conference called "Heart of America: Accessing Business Opportunities with the Department of Homeland Security," at the Hay Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C. This homeland security confab is aimed at getting a piece of the pie for small Hispanic-owned businesses. "Our goal is to open doors for minority-owned businesses to grow within the federal and corporate marketplaces," said Roger A. Campos, president and chief executive officer of MBRT.
The conference, the first of four to be held around the country, will include members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, White House and Congressional members, representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and officials of the DHS Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. Representatives from corporate America and key contractors also will be attending.
Wackenhut Detention Center
Speaking of business opportunities, I'm not sure if they'll be specifically discussing immigration issues at the MBRT-sponsored conferences, but did you know that several hundred asylum-seeking immigrants -- waiting for their applications to be processed at the Wackenhut Detention Center in Queens, New York -- recently ended a hunger strike called to protest the horrible conditions at the facility? The Detention Center, owned by the Florida-based Wackenhut Corrections Corp., the second largest private security company in the U.S., is under contract with the Dept. of Homeland Security.
According to the New York Press, "The detainees in Wackenhut have no windows, heat or air conditioning. They have no access to the internet, are not allowed to receive gifts (including books or writing paper) and have no privacy when they use the bathroom. When they leave the facility to be treated by a doctor, they are shackled and wear uniforms that say 'Department of Corrections.'" And these are people that have committed no crimes.
"It's basically a cargo warehouse," Archie Pyati, an attorney from the Lawyer's Committee for Human Rights (LCHR), an advocacy group for immigrants and refugees, told reporters Ana Tinsly and James Harbison.
Wackenhut knows how to turn a profit even from immigrants that have little resources and who earn about a dollar day for work performed at the facility. According to Tinsley and Harbison, "Any money given to a detainee goes into a special account that can only be used to buy items at the Wackenhut store." The Wackenhut store routinely charges $2.50 for writing paper and $1 for cans of soda. (For more on Wackenhut security empire, see Eye on Wackenhut, a Web site run by the Service Employees International Union.)
According to an August 2003 report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) entitled "Department of Homeland Security: The First Months," as of March 2003, "one in every twelve workers in the federal government -- a total of 160,201 -- was on the DHS payroll." TRAC, "Your Source for comprehensive, independent, and nonpartisan information about federal enforcement, staffing and spending," reports that "most DHS employees are now organized into five directorates -- (1) Border and Transportation Security (BTS), (2) Emergency Preparedness and Response, (3) Science and Technology, (4) Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection, and (5) Management." The budget for FY2004 calls for the DHS to receive some $36.2 billion.
If you are wondering about how resources are allocated to the states by the Department, the New York Daily News recently reported that New York, "the world's premier target for terror, gets less homeland security funding per person than virtually any state in the nation." In fact, writes Brian Kates, the state of Wyoming -- not necessarily known as a prime time target for terrorists -- receives $38.31 per person, compared with the $5.47 in counterterrorism funds spent on each New Yorker. California, rated the second state most at risk for attack, receives $5.21 per person in counterterrorism money.
According to Kates, "of the $900 million New York City has determined it needs to counter terrorism, it has received only $84 million from the federal government so far," and expects to receive another $75 million "in the next round of funding." Kates reports that "in fiscal 2003, the federal government provided $3.45 billion for first responders across the nation through three programs mandated by Congress: $1.9 billion in state formula grants; $800 million for high-threat urban areas; $750 million in firefighter assistance grants."
Although New York is ranked number one as a terrorist target, the grants are doled out equally to every state: "regardless of population or the actual threat of terrorism," each state receives "three-quarters of 1% of the $1.9 billion pot."
Last June, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told lawmakers the Bush administration is working on a funding formula "that better takes into account threats, population density and the presence of critical infrastructures." But next year, reports Kates, "the inequity" will get worse: "In fiscal 2004, the total amount distributed on the basis of need will decline. High-threat urban areas will receive about $725 million, a 10% cut, while the other programs will grow to $2.95 billion, a 10% increase."
Although intelligence officials warned that recent attacks abroad might indicate that something is planned for the U.S., in late-November, a Homeland Security spokesman said there was no change in the color-coded threat level, which remained at "yellow" or an elevated risk of attack. "Based on assessment of current intelligence, we have no plans to raise the threat level," department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.