Is Philly's anti-terrorism center a waste of your money?
A Philadelphia-based anti-terror hub is now six years in the making, having already costs tens of millions of dollars, but isn't even operating yet.
The building in South Philadelphia has been singled out as a prime example of questionable homeland security spending.
It's supposed to be a state-of-the-art intelligence center, but some are calling it a wasteful white elephant.
"Maybe we're just spending too much money and not getting the return on investment," Edward Turzanski, Assistant Vice President for Government and Community Relations at LaSalle University, said.
9/11 was the wakeup call that government agencies need to share intelligence about possible terror activity.
Homeland Security, since then, has funded so-called "fusion" centers around the country to gather threat information.
They committed $11-million to establishing one in Philadelphia.
The concept is to bring local, state and federal agencies, along with private industry, under one roof to gather and share intelligence.
The Philadelphia regional facility is under construction, years behind schedule, in a former military warehouse.
Its official name is the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center.
Congressman Pat Meehan chairs the Subcommittee on Counter Terrorism and Intelligence.
He has serious concerns about the DVIC and other fusion centers.
"Does it start to become something that looks for a mission to justify itself?" Meehan said.
The DVIC is a huge undertaking.
It's designed to house 130 employees, but at what cost?
The city has approved another $9-million for the lease.
The $11-million in federal money was awarded six years ago, but we still don't have much to show for it.
And what exactly will those 130 employees be doing every day?
So far, the current, much smaller, DVIC unit is pushing out bulletins. One example: warning of a hazard to children from swallowing detergent packs that look like candy.
Meehan wonders what this has to do with the terror threat.
"Not the kind of thing that should be justifying this kind of investment, no doubt," Meehan said.
A bipartisan senate report, released last month, singles out the DVIC as a prime example of lax oversight and waste.
It says money is being improperly spent on new construction.
And it says the city is planning to use it improperly for other police services.
Philadelphia police and Mayor Michael Nutter have declined to comment.
A spokesman for the mayor tells us only that the project is on course and will be an important part of the region's security.
Congressman Meehan says the concept of Central Intelligence sharing is a good idea, but that an overall lack of focus may doom the DVIC and other fusion centers.
"Programs that can't articulate how they're working for the taxpayers, hard working taxpayer dollars, that are being focused, that can't justify themselves, there's a real risk they are going to get cut off," Meehan said.
The DVIC is scheduled to open for business in February.
It remains to be seen if your $20-million investment pays off.
terrorism, philadelphia, special reports, david henry
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