Republicans and Democrats in Congress have finally found something they agree on – attacking a Pentagon program that is approved yearly by lawmakers as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.
Senators took turns ripping apart the Defense Department's 1033 program at a hearing on Tuesday and raised questions about whether local police across America should have access to the same equipment used on battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq. The 1033 program is in the spotlight because of the so-called militarization of police in Ferguson, Missouri, after protests about the death of Michael Brown, a black teenager who was shot and killed by a white police officer.
Since Congress first approved the 1033 program in 1990, local police have received more than $5.1 billion in military-grade property – from surplus desks to Mine Resistant Ambush P (MRAPS), M-16s, and Kevlar body armor. In 2013 alone, more than $449 million in military equipment was transferred; the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and FEMA paid for it through grants appropriated by Congress.
Although DOD officials say Ferguson police did not use any of its military-grade tactical equipment (which is still under review in a separate federal investigation), the war zone-like images that came out of Ferguson sparked new concerns.
"There is no role for the federal government in state and local police forces in our country," Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) said Tuesday. The longtime deficit hawk pointed out that a tiny police department in his home state had received two MRAPs from the Pentagon though it only has one full time police officer.
Alan Estevez, the Pentagon's principal deputy undersecretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics, pointed out that "we do this because we're asked to do this," implying that it was Congress who approved the 1033 program in the first place.