A troubled history

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Since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government has mounted an unprecedented domestic effort to protect America from terrorist threats. Part of that effort involved a massive reorganization of government; in March 2003, some 22 federal agencies were combined into a new Cabinet-level entity called the Department of Homeland Security. But the initiative also involved new money — stacks of it.

Some of that cash was spent by DHS itself or its new component agencies. Another $30 billion or so has also been awarded in special anti-terrorism and emergency preparedness grants to states and local communities for fighting extremists and bracing for catastrophes.

But just what has all that bought for the American public? Systematic federal efforts to measure the effectiveness of various homeland security programs and grants have been less than a complete success. Other evaluations have been buried in agate type and obscure audits – many of them sitting in dusty file drawers in Washington, D.C. or state capitals nationwide.

Starting in late 2008, reporters at the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Center for Public Integrity embarked on a collaborative effort aimed at investigating how effectively those dollars were spent and how efficiently programs were managed. Our labors are reflected in the pieces posted here on our site. You’ll find analyses of grant spending in California and Alaska, a critical look at the bewildering patchwork of congressional committees that oversee homeland security, reporting on police tactics used to “secure’ the 2008 Republican National Convention and a reckoning of the billions spent to improve radio communications among emergency responders. The site also includes an interactive map with a wealth of information about grant spending in each of the 50 states. Many of our conclusions are troubling; there’s little doubt all that money has given rise to a new homeland security industrial complex. What’s not as clear is how much security it’s bought us.

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