Hugely-expensive Chicago homeland security program replete with failure

Wednesday, January 11, 2012 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: homeland security, Chicago, failure

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(NaturalNews) They say the road to hell (and financial ruin) is paved with good intentions. And so it is with a massively expensive project for Cook County, Chicago that cost taxpayers more than $45 million and has been an abject failure.

The goal was to make citizens safer, but in the end, a federal probe found that the program - dubbed Project Shield - turned out to be more like the disasters it was supposed to mitigate. A U.S. Department of Homeland Security inspector general investigation found that the program was riddled with problems: faulty equipment, missing records, untrained first responders, and more.

In the end, the investigation found that "millions of dollars may have been wasted" - not an easy pill to swallow in an age when federal spending, and federal debt, is at an all-time high, and the public is demanding Washington and the states become better stewards of their tax money.

Under the project, the Chicago Sun-Times reported, "two police squad cars in all 128 Cook County suburbs were to be fitted with cameras capable of feeding live video to a central command. In addition, fixed mounted cameras were to be installed to feed pictures in case of a terrorist attack or emergency in Cook County."

In reality, however, the DHS investigation found that "equipment was not working, was removed, or could not be properly operated."

According to the report, which was due for release early this week, inspectors visited 15 municipalities between January and June 2010, finding "missing records, improper procurement practices, unallowable costs and unaccountable inventory items."

As bad as the IG report sounds, what may even be worse is the time it took to uncover the disaster. Equipment installation and training for Project Shield began in 2005, the Sun-Times said; complaints of fraud and mismanagement began as early as 2008. Yet it took another two years to actually investigate those claims. It's probably a good thing Chicago didn't suffer any terrorist- or other disaster-related incidents during that time.

Mike Quigley, a former Cook County Commissioner and eventual congressman, made the obvious connection when he asked the Government Accounting Office in 2009 to look into the charges, saying, "We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars across the country on homeland security. If Project Shield is any indication, we are less safe."

Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, then a congressman, chimed in as well, complaining to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano during a 2010 congressional hearing, "A Google search of $43-million wasted should come to your attention."

Among the DHS investigation's findings:

• Cameras in police cars malfunctioned during extreme hot and cold temperatures;

• A lack of training for personnel tasked with operating equipment and responding to potential disasters or attacks;

• Camera systems were never adequately tested.

And, as is usually the case in a federal government that has grown as large as ours and has too many moving parts, oversight of these failures was non-existent. The FBI, the IG report said, investigated some of the allegations but, of course, no charges were ever filed, even though obviously project managers responsible for this disaster were charged with being better stewards of the taxpayer's money.

And, once more, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was missing in action, the report noted, hitting the agency for its lack of attention to the details.

"Both FEMA and the State need to improve the review process and perform better oversight," the IG report concluded.

But then again, there's not much left to monitor. New County Board President Toni Preckwinkle ended the program last summer because it was so punctuated with problems.

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