Politics & Policy

The Cost of Grandstanding

Homeland Security exonerated in Texas political game.

After a three-week investigation, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general has exonerated a division inside the department of any wrongdoing when it unsuccessfully assisted the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) search for state representative Tim Laney.

Democrats had accused the Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center (AMICC) of wasting vital federal resources. “We created the Department of Homeland Security to track down terrorists, not law-abiding citizens,” said Rep. Jim Turner, a Texas Democrat. In a letter demanding an investigation, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and seven other House Democrats wrote that if their allegations were true, this “represents a shameful diversion of taxpayer resources for partisan purposes.”

With the arrival of the IG report, however, the question may be turned back on the Democrats: Who’s really guilty wasting taxpayer resources for partisan purposes?

The incident began on May 11, when 47 Texas Democrats boarded a bus bound for Oklahoma in a desperate attempt to avoid a vote on redistricting. According to Texas house rules, without a quorum — in this case, 100 of the 150 representatives — no action may be taken on any legislation. A few more agreed to either hide or make plans to meet them in Oklahoma.

Without Texas Rep. Pete Laney safely in allied territory — in the case, a Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Oklahoma — the Democrats’ conspiracy was doomed to failure. Laney was the linchpin to the scheme; without him, the 50 Democrats already holed up in Oklahoma numbered one short of the necessary 51.

Texas Speaker of the House Tom Craddick was looking for Laney too. Under Texas house rules, the speaker of the house may use the Texas Department of Safety (DPS) to retrieve fugitive lawmakers — in handcuffs if necessary. If Craddick could find Laney before he made it across the border, the Democrats’ walkout would fail.

Both sides wanted to know: Where was Pete Laney?

Visiting his mother, of course. After all, it was the day after Mother’s Day.

Laney, who is the former Democratic speaker of the Texas house and a licensed pilot, was flying to Oklahoma when he dropped off radar screens and landed his plane in Graham, Texas to visit his mother.

An unidentified caller from the Texas DPS called the Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center (AMICC), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, and asked for its assistance in finding a “missing plane” with state representatives on board. After making a few calls to the FAA and a few local airports, the AMICC operator informed the DPS that he was unable to locate the plane. No airplanes were dispatched, nor was a search and rescue operation initiated.

After an extensive investigation, DHS inspector general Clark Kent Ervin’s report determined that the AMICC acted “in compliance with their standard operating procedures” and that the DPS request required only a “nominal use of DHS assets.” The report indicated that the AMICC employee spent less than 40 minutes investigating the incident, and added that the AMICC routinely receives more than 30 similar calls a day from local law-enforcement officials looking for missing planes.

Although no budget figures are available, a DHS official explained that the Inspector General’s report required much more than a nominal amount of resources to complete. Agents from three regional branches were dispatched to interview and investigate the incident. Meanwhile, in Washington, multiple high-ranking officials worked on the investigation — some full time — in order to answer the Democrats list of demands.

“It wasn’t just one or two people and they weren’t low-level officials either,” said the official.

So, in an attempt to prove that a few phone calls by a low-level AMICC employee were a “shameful diversion of taxpayer resources for partisan purposes,” the Democrats commissioned a three-week study that tied up numerous high-ranking Homeland Security officials — officials who are supposed to be fighting terrorism, not partisan political battles.

James Justin Wilson is an NR intern.


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