That’s the all-but-certain fate of a White House push to shut down much of the homeland-security spigot that has showered towns, cities and states with billions of dollars of gadgets and gear for nearly six years, all in the name of the domestic war on terror.
Mindful of criticism from government-spending watchdogs that the homeland-security budget has become a slush fund tapped by localities for everything from gas masks to armored vehicles, the White House wants the Department of Homeland Security to dole out just $1.4 billion for that purpose next year. This year, the total was $3 billion.
But the negative reaction from Capitol Hill when word of the budget cut was leaked this past week — Democrats and Republicans howling, in rare harmony — signals there’ll be plenty of cash next year for any one-stoplight town still in the market for chem-bio suits and radiation detectors.
We’ve been wringing our hands over the “dirty bomb” threat ever since 2001, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has just now issued regulations to require workers who handle radioactive materials in “quantities of concern” to pass background checks before being allowed to continue to handle them without a security escort being present.
The new rules require such workers at about 1,000 companies and institutions in 16 states directly regulated by the NRC to undergo fingerprinting and criminal background examinations. Other states that have their own nuke-material regulators will follow suit shortly.
The push is on to create yet another national registry of criminal miscreants. This time it’s convicted arsonists who would be listed on an FBI-maintained tally that federal, state and local law enforcement could use. Spurred by California lawmakers looking for more ways to prevent and investigate wildfire arsons, the House passed a measure Wednesday that would require all those convicted of the crime to register with the police when they leave prison.
Only problem, arson is one of the hardest offenses to solve. Data shows that fewer than 20 percent of intentionally set fires result in arrest and conviction.
Some good news: Americans are becoming better about their butts. The “cleaning and greening” group Keep America Beautiful Inc. says fewer folks are dropping their cigarette butts on the ground, at least in 150 communities that are part of a program to persuade people to put their butts in receptacles rather than on the ground.
For seven months this year, hundreds of volunteers took to the streets to count and collect discarded butts, and the results showed an overall 6 percent improvement over a similar period in 2006.
The 60,000 guests invited to the White House’s holiday festivities this season will find the following offerings: 20,000 Christmas cookies, 10,000 handmade tamales, 1,000 pounds of shrimp, 700 pounds of crab, 600 pounds of asparagus and 320 gallons of eggnog.
The National Institutes of Health says the nation needs to prepare for another health burden the nearly 78 million baby boomers will bring with them as they age: incontinence.
Starting Dec. 10, the NIH is holding a three-day meeting outside Washington on the subject, focusing on “what we know and what we need to learn,” according to its announcement of the conference.
“As baby boomers approach their 60s, the incidence and public-health burden of incontinence are likely to increase,” the announcement warned.
“Talking About My Parents’ Generation: Understanding Baby Boomers and How They’ve Shaped Us.” — A new course being offered this year at American University in Washington, where tuition alone runs $31,000 a year.
(E-mail Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanl(at)shns.com. SHNS correspondent Lee Bowman contributed to this column.)