Secretary Tom Ridge
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Ridge,
As CBS News reported last night ("Taxpayers Footing Oil Safety Bill"), big oil companies, such as Citgo, ConocoPhillips and ChevronTexaco, have received a combined $37.5 million in security grants from your department.
This is unacceptable. The states and their municipalities are under-funded and left vulnerable to terrorist attacks, while these mult-billion dollar, multi-national corporations reap the benefits of government security funding.
The government's mandate is to fund and protect its infrastructure and citizenry. It is utterly irresponsible for the Department of Homeland Security to allow the oil companies to drain limited public funds to protect their sites and equipment. This money should be going to our first responders.
We suspect that with billions of dollars in profits, companies like Citgo and ChevronTexaco can afford to spend a minor fraction of their wealth on new guards, security cameras, fencing, and communications equipment. All of the oil companies cited in last night's CBS News story refused to comment. This is a clear indication that they recognize the impropriety of these multi-million dollar grants.
Asked about these oil company grants, you said, "As long as the funds are available for the private sector they will apply." We agree with you on this point. But we don't agree with your fatalistic assumption that the money needs to be made available to private industry. As you said, "They need to step up, in my judgment, with their own money."
Therefore, we request that the department review its criteria for making these grants. Indeed, you should revamp the entire system altogether. The priority should remain with first responders and state and local governments, which are charged with protecting water supplies, public transit systems, ports and other critical infrastructure.
Moreover, it behooves the department to request that the oil companies repay this money. The nation looks to you to be a firm and vigilant protector, and we believe simply asking that this money to be returned would be an important first step in restoring the public's trust in your department.
Yes, the private sector is at risk in this age of terrorism, and attacks against nuclear power, chemical and oil facilities could be disastrous to the public. But this does not justify federal welfare for companies that are more concerned with their bottom line than they are with shoring up their own security.
Since your department's inception, the Project On Government Oversight has been concerned that private sector interests would wrongfully trump public safety. As I wrote to you in a letter on July 8, 2003, more than 80 percent of the critical infrastructure in the United States is owned by private industry. Industry needs to carry its share of the burden - without draining the public's scarce resources.