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Federal anti-terrorism grants questioned in report by Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn

Small towns buy armored vehicles and first responders attend a training seminar with zombie killings, according to report about grants first intended to help high-risk urban areas
by Chris Casteel Published: December 6, 2012

— Federal money intended to help cities prepare for terrorist attacks has been used by small towns to buy armored vehicles and for an exercise called “zombie apocalypse training,” according to a report by Sen. Tom Coburn that criticizes spending on “low-risk” 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 Wednesday.

“Congress has a duty to ensure that this grant program does not become a parochial, pork-barrel entitlement program. We need to help the program fulfill its original goal of providing funds for projects in areas most at risk.”

The Department of Homeland Security, created by Congress after the 9/11 attacks, administers a grant program called the Urban Area Security Initiative. The program has allotted more than $7 billion in the past decade, according to the report.

“Keene, New Hampshire, with a population just over 23,000 and a police force of 40, set aside UASI funds to buy a BearCat armored vehicle,” the report states.

“Despite reporting only a single homicide in the prior two years, the City of Keene told DHS the vehicle was needed to patrol events like its annual pumpkin festival. Tulsa, Oklahoma, used UASI funding to harden a county jail and purchase a color printer.”

Originally, the program focused on seven major cities, using a formula to assess risk, but then expanded to as many as 64 because of political pressure, before being scaled back to 31 in the last fiscal year, the report says.

In all, 32 states have received money from the program, with the largest amounts going to New York, California and Texas. Oklahoma has received $32 million.

Texas newspapers have reported that purchases in that state include a $21 fish tank in Seguin, a $24,000 latrine, a “hog catcher” and two 2011 Camaros.

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by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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