Report takes aim at La. items in homeland security funds

WASHINGTON — A new report released Wednesday by Sen. Tom Coburn takes aim at Louisiana and a few other states for allegedly wasting Department of Homeland Security funding.

Coburn, R-Okla., contends that dollars meant for combating terrorism are too often sought for unrelated things, such as license plate readers in Jefferson Parish — “that have been used not to stop terrorists, but to catch car thieves” — and for cellphone bills for emergency personnel in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans metro areas.

“At a time when our $16 trillion national debt is our greatest national security threat, we must make sure that all programs, especially those meant to prevent terrorism, are achieving their mission,” Coburn said with the release of the findings. “This report shows that too often so-called security spending is making our nation less secure by directing scarce dollars to low-priority projects and low-risk areas.”

The most-infamous item in the report is spending on a security conference in California that featured staged “zombie apocalypse” training as its centerpiece.

In terms of federal spending in Louisiana in recent years, the report also highlights:

  • Livingston Parish using $10,000 for a flight course to train search-and-rescue pilots on normal and emergency flight procedures that officials described as “essential to responder safety and health,” so the project fit “neatly” into pre-approved criteria.
  • Ascension Parish buying a $2,700 teleprompter allegedly for meeting the national priority to expand regional collaboration.
  • More than $3,100 for a roofing project for the New Orleans East Tower Building.
  • Plaquemines Parish using $2,400 for a lapel microphone.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, said she planned to review the report before commenting.

But, as Landrieu was leaving a hearing on Hurricane Sandy, she added, “I wish he’d spend some time focusing on the East Coast.”

The Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness also released a document explaining how the funds were justified and used by the local governments.

The $45,000 for license-plate readers, for instance, is used by Harahan police in Jefferson Parish to “prevent potential terrorism activities by scanning the license plates of vehicles engaging in suspicious activities, which supports information sharing and prevention activities.”

The Livingston flight training was part of a Joint Task Force effort to prevent and respond to terrorist activity along the Mississippi River, according to the document.

The teleprompter is part of Ascension’s Joint Information Center that is used in the case of disasters, whether the disasters are hurricanes or terrorist attacks, according to GOHSEP.

The $12,000 in cellphone bills are only related to federal Urban Area Security Initiative activities, according to the document, and the lapel microphone is a tactical covert microphone used by undercover officers and response teams.