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Homeland Security Spending Marked by Waste, Shoddy Oversight

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Posted on Sep 13, 2009
California Emergency Management Agency

Several communities in California used homeland security grants to buy large heavy-rescue and hazardous materials-response trucks. Other truck purchases were on the smaller side like this golf cart in Long Beach.

By G.W. Schulz, California Watch

(Page 3)

Documentation not easy to find
California Watch found that communities across the state struggled to keep sufficient documentation showing where and how they spent federal grant money.

In Madera County, north of Fresno, officials from the local sheriff’s department hired a contractor to help manage the county’s grant purchases. The list included $200,000 for computer-aided dispatch, a $50,000 hazmat response vehicle, $16,000 in surveillance gear and more for portable radios and respirators.

Problems didn’t appear immediately. But as grant awards increased and grew more complex, the contractor had difficulty showing the work he’d done. There were badly labeled and incomprehensible spreadsheets. Purchases became delayed. Department officials increasingly couldn’t reach him with questions. “His failures led to a cascade of confusing accounting errors that later proved irreconcilable,” said Eric Outfleet, a business manager for the sheriff.

The county finally realized that grant records were in disarray and the contractor needed to be fired – more than two years after he had started. It took 2,000 hours of work to sort things out and months to locate and identify equipment scattered across the county, Outfleet said.

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By the time monitors from the state arrived in May of 2007, Madera County couldn’t produce sufficient records showing how it spent a total of $1.37 million. Local administrators informed the inspector that the county may have “inadvertently destroyed” documents needed to verify more than $279,000 in spending from their 2002 grants.

Outfleet told California Watch that the county’s handling of grants has vastly improved over the last two years and his department “looks forward to demonstrating the success of our new accounting processes in the next monitoring visit.”

Grant applications filled out by local officials are supposed to reflect the area’s actual needs. But inspectors found paperwork in Los Angeles County that showed endless changes to how they’d originally promised to spend the money. For three grants totaling nearly $70 million in spending, the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management made at least 392 modifications in just one year. Many such changes were done without approval from grant overseers in Sacramento.

That meant the county “did not have sound investment justifications, therefore they did not meet their homeland security goals and objectives,” monitoring records from July 2007 show. At the time of the inspection, the county also for two years hadn’t inventoried the huge volume of equipment it bought, didn’t know where some of it was located and wasn’t sure who to call to find out.

Officials in Los Angeles responded that the slightest change counted against them as a “modification,” even for such things as having funds left over. The emergency management office’s director, John Fernandes, said the county is responsible for purchases made by dozens of cities and special districts in the area. They’re all now required to compile full inventory logs.   

“Without question taxpayers should be secure that not a dime is being spent without checks and balances,” he said. “But if you’re talking to the fire chief or emergency manager, they’re going to say ‘What’s taking so long?’ It’s a painstaking process because of what goes into it.”

California Watch found that careless accounting led to other communities receiving more in cash than they deserved.

Agencies sought reimbursement for the same items twice – totaling at least $257,460 in double-billing. The excess payments were eventually corrected. The city of Oakland was forced to return more than $92,000 from the 2004 Urban Area Security Initiative. That error wasn’t discovered until the spring of 2007.

Monterey County was reimbursed for one $7,642 line item and then attempted to get paid a second time before state officials figured out what occurred.

Several communities could have benefited from earlier monitoring and told the state as much. Employee turnover occurred so frequently that local grant managers didn’t know what their predecessors had done. They struggled to answer questions from auditors.

Monterey County’s grants administrator Bertha Simpson said the state didn’t previously track reimbursement requests by category, such as equipment and training, so Sacramento officials weren’t always aware what they were paying for. That began to change once the site visits occurred, she said.

“I don’t ever want to go through that again.”

Bidding process skipped by some
Cities and counties also frequently failed to explain why they didn’t competitively bid out contracts for expensive equipment.

At least $1.6 million in purchases were made without clear evidence that agencies pursued multiple bids from suppliers or had a sufficient excuse for not doing so. Inspectors raised questions about scores of other items, but it was impossible to determine a dollar figure because price tags often weren’t listed in the reports.

Oakland’s bus system, for instance, sought a sole-source $100,000 contract for equipment capable of detecting improvised explosive devices. Other grantees hired consultants or bought all-terrain vehicles and rapid-response trucks under similar circumstances.

The inspector general’s March report revealed that communities across the state were not aware of federal purchasing rules and bought gear without fair and open competition. In other cases, local agencies didn’t look closely to ensure no-bid contract proposals were reasonable. The inspector general identified $11.6 million in purchases where regulations weren’t followed.  Auditors found that local authorities “preferred to avoid the burden of initiating competitive procurement whenever possible.”


New and Improved Comments

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By bogi666, September 16, 2009 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment

DHS is and was created as a shell game for the purpose of corruption by contracting its funding to private sources which are unaccountable without transparency.

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By Richard, September 16, 2009 at 12:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I was working for the USCG on active duty at the time.  The CAPT I was working for spent the money on new leather chairs for his conference room and the entire unit got flat screen monitors (except for my group, but that is a longer story).

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By voice of truth, September 16, 2009 at 9:45 am Link to this comment

And these are the people you want to trust your healthcare to???  Really??

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By Gloria Picchetti, September 16, 2009 at 6:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Overspending? Waste? What did you expect?

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By homas, September 15, 2009 at 3:33 pm Link to this comment

I worked for a privately owned psych hospital in D.C. that used Home Security funds to purchase and install cameras in the hallways.

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By ardee, September 14, 2009 at 5:00 am Link to this comment

Play Donkey Kong for Peace!

Bureaucratic boondoggles are the norm, in every facet of government. The entire Homeland Security Dept was a huge mistake, as was the Bush Administration and as is the Obama Administration as well….

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By ChaoticGood, September 13, 2009 at 11:00 pm Link to this comment

When NYC was attacked on 911 we retaliated on the “enemy” by going shopping, invading Afganistan and letting Osama escape, then we lost interest in Osama and then invaded Iraq, which had nothing to do with 911 and had no WMD’s.  Then we put the Iraqi national guard on our payroll so they wouldn’t shoot at us anymore and then we declared “victory” and went back to our barracks.

With that type of “logic” in operation, it is perfectly “logical” to buy firetrucks, gas masks and radio equipment for cities in the midwest, which are extremely unlikely to ever be the targets of Al Queda radicals. Why put in radiological sensors at our ports or increase security at our chemical plants, when you can buy the favors of your local politicians with that money.

Given our track record, the next “logical” step in our war on terror should be to buy video games for everyone in Pakistan.  Within a few weeks, the Taliban will be so addicted to “Donkey Kong” that they will lose the will to fight and will just give up.

Just remember, “Up is Down”, “War is Peace” and “Standing still is moving forward”.  So says the Department of Homeland Security who brought you the “color coded” lifestyle meter.

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politicky's avatar

By politicky, September 13, 2009 at 6:37 pm Link to this comment

The “War on Terror” and “War on Drugs?”  Just another excuse for men in law enforcement to engage in turf wars and pissing contests.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, September 13, 2009 at 6:02 pm Link to this comment

The jury of public opinion is still out on “hijackers” destroying the WTC.

I would rather see ambulances, fire trucks, rescue equipment and radios given to our first responders here in America than that money spent on tanks and aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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