Trucking Pork?

By Matthew Harwood

The federal government has spent $63 million since 2004 training truck drivers to spot terrorists on the road or at rest stops, Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) told the New York Daily News.

The program, known as "Highway Watch," has been allocated $16 million this year under DHS' Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI).

Weiner claims this is one more example of how DHS wastes homeland security money on insignificant programs while bigger cities at a higher risk of terrorist attack receive insufficient funding.

The pork - much of which was paid to the American Trucking Association (ATA) - is one of the many ways Homeland Security is wasting taxpayer dollars when New York needs security cash, Weiner charged Tuesday.

"We here in New York City are being shortchanged," Weiner said outside Military Island in Times Square, where a bomb recently exploded.

The money given to the ATA has been spent on classes, primarily online, and DVDs to teach truckers what to look out for, as well as set up a national call center for them to report suspicious activity to. ATA spokesman John Willard estimated 800,000 truckers have been trained by the program resulting in thousands of reports called in by truckers each year. Security-related reports are forwarded to five Highway Watch intelligence analysts that work at the Transportan Security Administration's Transportation Security Operations Center and review the information for security threats. 

Willard also called Weiner's comments "unfortunate," noting that "the government spends hundreds of millions of dollars on airport security, which a small minority of Americans use, while spending $16 million to secure every morsel of food, water, fuel, and hazardous materials" that travel on American highways everyday is considered a waste of money.

He said the program's mission is frequently misconstrued as a way to catch terrorists, whereas it's focus is to provoke vigilance in drivers "to ensure the industry isn't a soft target." Measured this way, Willard says the program is a success.

In a press release, Weiner said New York City has experienced a 35 percent decrease in homeland security funds since 2005, while the number of cities eligible for UASI funds have grown from 46 in 2006 and 2007 to 60 in 2008. Many cities listed by Weiner as receiving pork have populations under 50,000 and reside in states with a low risk of terrorist attack, while the original mission of the UASI was providing federal funds to high-threat, high density urban areas.

In response to past DHS grants, Weiner sponsored legislation last year that will cap the number of cities eligible for UASI funding to 15.

"This isn’t brain surgery: when a city faces a major threat, you give the city the tools it needs to protect itself," Weiner said. "And yet time and again, we’re seeing remote towns and corrupt officials rake in the money while New York City gets the short end of the stick."



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