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American Recovery and Reinvestment Act May Change Role of DHS

September 30 marked the deadline for the Department of Homeland Security to award funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The ARRA provides about $787 billion in an economic stimulus plan passed by Congress in February of 2009. Besides its focus to rebuild the US economy, increase social welfare, and promote private investment, the ARRA has a national security component. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano publicized that the DHS has awarded $2.6 billion from the ARRA. “DHS Recovery Act projects are creating new jobs and injecting money into local economies while making America safer,” said Secretary Napolitano. DHS awarded money for a wide variety of purposes including hiring local first responders, infrastructure construction, and new high-tech security systems in airports and other transit stations.

Using national security is a unique method for supporting stimulus acts. While business lawyers and economists can argue fairly equally on both sides of the legal, economic, and political ramifications of the federal government spending billions to subsidize America’s struggling economy, national security makes the argument more one sided. It is difficult to argue against spending more to protect people at airports and ensuring cyber-security, especially in the post-9/11 world. However DHS spending from the ARRA does not just have a security component. Secretary Napolitano’s statement about the positives of the billions in award money focused on the creation of jobs just as much as the advancement in national security. DHS spending from the ARRA includes $142 million for security bridge alteration construction projects to help facilitate safe and efficient navigation along the Nation’s waterways. Bridge alternation construction might simply mean building new bridges under the guise of national security. The ARRA appears to have at shifted some of the DHS focus in its spending from ensuring national security to creating jobs.

DHS spending of ARRA money provides an example of how national security can leak into other areas of law and curtail federalism. It is reasonably foreseeable that national security is affected by criminal law, business law, and labor law. The local entities that receive funding from the DHS may also inherent obligations. Local security forces such as firehouses, which are also receiving money from ARRA funding, may have to abide by conditions that come along with the grants. Such conditions may further dilute the separation between local security forces that operate under local law and federal security agencies.

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