Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Seven Deadly Excuses

A couple of weeks ago, I detailed six different “rationale” used by DHS to justify a 40% cut in New York City’s Homeland Security grant. Listening to Wednesday’s special hearings on anti-terrorism funding held by Representative Peter King (R-NY), I was reminded of yet another excuse offered up by Michael Chertoff.

Basically, the secretary (who did not testify at the hearings, but the point was raised by several others in attendance) said, “we don’t pay for people, we pay for things.” In other words, New York City’s allocation was cut because it spent too much money on personnel costs—like overtime for police every time there is a terror alert or the threat level is raised by the federal government—and the Department of Homeland Security likes to use its grant money for the purchase of hard assets, like mobile bio-hazard analysis labs. . . or bulletproof vests for dogs.

Besides being the seventh distinct reason offered for the allocation—making it very clear to me that Chertoff and the Bush administration have no real plan to increase domestic security—it is a very concrete, shall we say, example of a funding strategy offered time and again by Republicans since the days of Ronald Reagan’s military budget increases. Be it silos versus soldiers or tests versus teachers, Republicans (and, perhaps, many elected officials, in general) like to buy more things more than they like to pay more people.

Why? Well, it does offer a nicer photo-op—standing in front of some high-tech gizmo rather than a dozen wage slaves—but I think there is something more to it than that.

When you buy a thing, or 20,000 of the same thing, you buy it from a corporation. . . a corporation that is usually run by one person who is very grateful for that government contract—a gratitude that can be expressed in terms of a nice campaign contribution or a future revolving-door lobbyist’s job.

When you pay for people, you spread the money around. The chances are much smaller that any given new employee will express gratitude for his or her new job in the form of a contribution, and even if he or she did, it would likely be a tiny fraction of what a big contractor could (and would) give.

Further, workers in the public sector run the high risk of being union workers. Be it AFSCME or NEA, it is hardly a revelation to assert that organized labor is a big boogeyman for Republicans. Union employees tend to get benefits, and maybe even pensions, and so make for long-term investments in a way that buying dry goods just doesn’t. In addition, organized labor tends to weigh-in on the side of Democrats, so Republicans are loathe to increase union membership by funding the hiring of more public-sector employees.

Of course, more employees is often just what the doctor ordered. From more security personnel at our nation’s airports, to more cops for our city’s streets, to more and better paid teachers for our children’s schools, the advantages—to all of us—of well-trained and well-paid professionals are clear. In addition, at the risk of sounding obvious, hiring more people directly decreases unemployment, distributes wealth, and adds money to local economies much more effectively than investments in capital-intensive durable goods.

All of this makes me think that Michael Chertoff’s seventh excuse might have finally hit upon the rationale that is actually closest to the truth. After all, what could be a better, more plausible justification for the distribution of our tax dollars than naked partisan ambition and personal and political self-interest?

This is supposedly money for our security—talk about your seven deadly sins.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should focus on NYC/NYS politics. Become the goto blog for NYC/NYS. The national stuff is already over-covered.

A friend.

9:36 AM  

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