Tougaloo College Gets Millions in Homeland Security Earmark

Which of these is more common: Democrats abusing their positions of power to waste money, or Democrats showing they no longer take seriously the threat of terrorist attack? This scandal has them both.

House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) is pushing earmarks worth millions of dollars for homeland security projects at the small Mississippi college that he attended, though the school could not explain what the earmarks are for and does not yet appear to have the capacity to provide the services that Thompson wants to fund.

In an earmark request for 2010 appropriations, Thompson’s Web site indicates that he is seeking $23 million for the “National Institute for Education and Training” at Tougaloo College for “an Operational Test and Evaluation Activity (OTEA) in Vicksburg, Mississippi…”

The money would be “an addition to existing programs” at the institutions, [Thompson’s Chief of Staff Lanier] Avant said. Tougaloo “has one of the most renowned engineering programs of all the [historically black colleges and universities] in the country. … It’s not like Tougaloo is some kind of new kid on the block,” he said.

But Tougaloo does not offer an engineering major. The school’s course catalog indicates that there is not a single engineering class being taught at Tougaloo this semester. The school does have a joint program with the Georgia Institute of Technology that allows students to transfer there to get their engineering degree after finishing their liberal arts coursework at Tougaloo.

George Armstrong, a chemistry professor who serves as the interim director of Tougaloo’s National Institute for Education and Training in Transportation Security, said he had heard about the earmark but had no details about it.

“That is something just coming out,” Armstrong said. “I wouldn’t have known about it except I just happened to be in a meeting” where the project was mentioned, he said last week. “It hasn’t been fully defined … [though] I know our name is associated with that.”

He asked a reporter to e-mail whatever documentation was available about the earmark request and referred calls to the school’s provost, Abdul Turay, who did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment on the project…

Tougaloo President Beverly Hogan did not return a call requesting information about the project.

Congressman Thompson has consistently used his position as chair of the Homeland Security Committee to expand federal contracting opportunities for minority and black-owned businesses. Indeed, the top item on the committee website is the ‘Business Opportunities Manual.’ While that may be the first priority, it’s not really clear how far down the list ‘protecting the homeland from terrorist attacks’ falls. But for a chairman willing to give millions for projects that don’t exist, at institutions that have no need for homeland security funds, it’s clear priorities have always been skewed.