As the U.S. engages in a national debate over the militarization of the police, federal data shows that government agencies charged with largely administrative roles are spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to purchase SWAT and military-style equipment.
Since FY 2006, 44 traditionally administrative agencies have spent over $71 million on items like body armor, riot helmets and shields, cannon launchers and police firearms and ammunition, according to federal spending data from watchdog group OpenTheBooks.com.
Some examples of the purchases include:
• Nearly $2 million spent by the Department of Veterans Affairs on riot helmets, defender shields, body armor, a “milo return fire cannon system,” armored mobile shields, Kevlar blankets, tactical gear and equipment for crowd control.
• Over $300,000 spent by the Food and Drug Administration on “ballistic vests and carriers” in fiscal 2014.
• Over $200,000 on body armor spent by the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration years, versus just $30,000 in the three previous fiscal years.
• More than $28,000 by the Smithsonian Institution on body armor for its “zoo police and security officers” in fiscal 2012.
Spending watchdogs say these examples, highlighted in an upcoming oversight report by OpenTheBooks.com titled “Arming of the Federal Agencies,” point to a trend of duplicitous federal law enforcement agencies run amok.
“Spending $71.1 million on body armor outside of traditional law enforcement agencies raises troubling questions. It’s no surprise Gallup found that nearly 50 percent of Americans believe the federal government is a threat to their liberty,” said Adam Andrzejewski, founder of OpenTheBooks.com and author of the oversight report.
“Living in D.C., one gets a sense of the growing police power of the federal government when you increasingly see official cars emblazoned with ‘fill-in-the-blank-agency Police Service’ for obscure bureaucracies you’ve hardly even heard of,” said Chris Edwards, a budget analyst at the Cato Institute.
For spending tens of millions of dollars on body armor and other protective gear for duplicative police forces, the VA, EPA, FDA and 41 other administrative agencies win this week’s Golden Hammer, a weekly distinction awarded by The Washington Times highlighting examples of wasteful federal spending.
“When agencies like the Bureau of Public Debt and Small Business Administration are spending money on body armor and bulletproof vests, it is an indicator of bloat in those agencies’ budgets and the wasteful incentive to spend every dime before the fiscal year-end,” Mr. Edwards said.
Federal agencies employ roughly 120,000 full-time officers authorized to carry guns and make arrests, according to a June 2012 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Administrative agencies with special police like the EPA, IRS and NOAA argue that their officers, just like other law enforcement officers, always face the potential for physical confrontation and must therefore…