Photo of William J. Birnes from the UFO Hunters series.

📯 April 12, 2017

Why I’m Running

Photo of Bill Birnes, speaking at a conference.

Speaking at some conference, somewhere. As is my wont.

At the end of the 1990s, my old writing partner from our book The Riverman approached me with a question: Would I be interested in participating in a United States Department of Justice grant to audit the ways previous DoJ hardware and software grants to local and municipal law-enforcement agencies used their federal money? The issue was that the federal government was looking for follow-up on the scores of millions of dollars it had spent purchasing and donating state of the art computer systems to local police agencies to enable them to review cold cases involving sexual assaults and homicides. The Department of Justice wanted our new grant audit team to ascertain whether the expenditure had made any difference in closing these cases.

It was an experience in learning how money – taxpayer money – can be thrown away by the government to solve problems that can be addressed less expensively through training. Sure, departments like the LAPD’s Robbery Homicide made good use of data analysis, just not the equipment the federal government gave them, at least not in 1998. You can imagine our shock seeing all those bright shiny new computers stacked up against a wall, unused, unplugged, while detectives relied on their cellphones and an occasional trip to the NCIC terminal for records checks. Other departments had made better use of their equipment and had actually identified suspects in cold cases, whom they later prosecuted.

Our audit back then showed that, in at least this one instance, shoveling money at a problem doesn’t always solve the problem. It was instructive, however, because it taught us, taught me, that pound foolish isn’t always the corollary of being pennywise. You just have to follow the money to see into whose pocket it goes.

This also served me well years later when I was asked to be part of another team, this time with retired DEA agents training South American banks in identifying money-laundering operations by auditing the accounts and backgrounds of high-roller customers fronting for drug cartels. Narco-traffickers need to clean their dirty money, and they do it by routing it through banks and into sham businesses for which they pay taxes, and then back into their own bank accounts. In this way, money from illegal narcotics sales is co-mingled with legitimate money from businesses and takes on a new identity as legitimate revenue. Banks, particularly foreign banks, can be unwittingly complicit in this or they can be willfully blind. It was our team’s job to teach bank officers how to audit the financial records of their customers, flag accounts that seemed suspicious, flag sources of income that couldn’t be tracked by legitimate means, and report that to their compliance regulators. This was auditing on an entirely new scale.

Then, early in the next decade, I was asked by the Director of the Sunrise Community Counseling Center to step in as Chairman of the Board of Directors to oversee the audits of their federal, state, and county grant fund use as well as their budgets for operations and delivery of community services. Again, the compliance regulations governing federal and state grants were particularly stiff, but, given the amount of money and the obligation to spend it scrupulously, auditing was not just a byproduct of the operation, it was central to it.

Now fast forward to the complacency of 2016 right here in Pennsylvania, right here in Solebury Township. Complacency breeds smugness, and I was poll-watching last November and saw badge-wearing self-described “voting enforcers” march into our polls at the Solebury Township building, demanding to inspect the voters. I was outraged. It had all the trappings of voter intimidation, and I was not about to stand for it. I asked our local constable – who was also making sure the voting went smoothly – to confront these “voting enforcers” and order them either to take off their badges or leave. They took off their badges, and then they left.

I have had a long career, teaching graduate and undergraduate English at Trenton State College, editing and producing encyclopedias for McGraw-Hill and Simon & Schuster, writing military fiction for Tor Publishing, and incredibly, chasing flying saucers across the American Southwest, up steep inclines outside of Area 51, turning over chaparral and scrub brush in the Roswell Chaves County desert of New Mexico, and discovering the nature of Nazi super weapons deep in hollowed-out mountain complexes in Poland. I’ve helped unravel serial-killer cases and even made a movie about it. And I have stood my ground in court.

When, in the wake of the 2016 election, our local Democratic Party asked me to run for the position of Auditor (a 2-year term), I agreed because I want to do what I did thirty years ago and keep an eye on your money, where and to whom it goes, and whether it is spent wisely. But it’s more than that. I want to prevent a wholesale looting of our middle class, which, sadly, seems to be the aim of this administration. That’s why I’m running and that’s why I’m a Democrat.

Sometimes you have to find your hilltop, plant your feet, and make your stand.

Here’s where I’ll make my stand.