The U.S. House of Representatives had to do a fair amount of trimming to get the $31.8 billion Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill into shape for Tuesday night's vote; lawmakers reduced the department's overall funding request by seven percent. One intriguing item that was stripped from Homeland Security's proposed 2006 budget: the $136,000 the department was paying TV actress Bobbie Faye Ferguson, a former "Dukes of Hazzard" guest star, to be its image consultant.
Now, we'd be the first to agree that Homeland Security is in need of a makeover -- and apparently Ferguson was hired for more than just her Daisy Dukes: Her rather colorful resume includes a stint as a hooker with a heart of gold on Designing Women, event planning for the Clinton administration, and seven years as a spokesperson for NASA. And Homeland Security certainly isn't the only government group to use creative P.R. tactics to burnish its image, as department spokesperson Brian Roerhkasse himself pointed out: "This is a similar function that numerous other federal agencies possess, and is necessary in helping those in multimedia make their projects as accurate as possible." According to the Associated Press, one urgent issue to which Roehrkasse pointed: Some movies continue to refer to the now-defunct Immigration and Nationalization Service, whose functions were absorbed by Homeland Security in 2003.
But Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., wasn't buying Roerhkasse's everyone-else-is-doing-it defense, noting that Homeland Security is the last agency that should be shelling out taxpayer dollars to fact-check Hollywood. "We should direct this money to actually help the people who respond and save lives," Musgrave said. "The people of this country have high expectations about their security after being violated on 9/11." At Musgrave's urging, the House voted to nix Ferguson's salary and commit the funds to state and local disaster teams, many of which are in need of, among other precautionary gear, hazardous-material protective suits and emergency P.A. systems.