A penny for your thought, or a chicken salad plate
Homeland Security money is the pork barrel fund of the decade.
More than $18 billion has been awarded to state and local governments to protect the homeland, and that's only a portion of total spending. It's enough money to have every governor, county commission chairman and mayor clamoring for a share.
The pie is so large that the government has a Web site to help folks looking for money.
"This site exists to give you a birds-eye view of current homeland security funding — across agencies, departments, and grant programs.
"To your left you will find links to information designed to enhance your efforts to obtain grant funding for your homeland security initiatives," the site reads.
The state Health Department spent a tad of that money this week on lunches for people who showed up at the Decatur Utilities auditorium to discuss preparations for a flu outbreak, or bioterrorism.
The department will have 11 of these sessions around the state, with each limited to costing no more than $2,500.
Perhaps it was money well spent because the participants told health officials what should have been perfectly obvious based on last winter's scarcity of flu vaccine. Basically they said health officials should have had more people administering shots and that it isn't good for old folks to stand out in the weather while waiting their turn.
They also suggested the state ask churches and civic groups to help during an emergency.
Too much of Homeland Security activity has the appearance of busy work designed to show citizens that government is hustling for them. But not only is Homeland Security a drain on the federal budget, some of its activities give people a false sense of security.
The funds spent for the chicken salad, cantaloupe, pasta salad, and broccoli salad lunches for the 180 participants might have given taxpayers more for their money than some of Homeland Security's other projects.
The part of a $150,000 grant that Cullman County spent last year for advanced imaging technology to protect the sweet potato crop from terrorist acts comes to mind.
But, then again, it must have worked because the potato crop apparently came through unscathed.