This article was written by Fred Lucas, CNSNews.com Staff Writer
The 9/11 Commission Report warned that when handing out homeland security grants, "Congress should not use this money as a pork barrel."
However, an analysis of the grants going to state and local governments suggests that some of them are pork barrel projects; the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) apparently has failed to issue grants based entirely on need, and it has little oversight on how the grant money is used.
For example, some "homeland security" funding has been doled out for office space, a bus, a bingo hall, and limousine service, among other "projects."
Though the House and Senate passed a bill, signed by President Bush, to fully implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission from 2004, an analysis by the conservative Heritage Foundation concluded that the new law makes it easy in some cases for Congress to distribute the grants as pork, not as necessary projects.
Further, the report says the grant programs aren't "matching grants." Thus, the grants don't provide incentives for states to invest their own money in further domestic security.
"While federal spending on homeland security has increased exponentially since 9/11, state spending on homeland security has remained almost flat as a percentage of total state appropriations," the report said. "Federal funds should be used to supplement, not supplant, state and local spending."
The 9/11 bill "included language prohibiting the use of grant funds to supplant state or local funds," Dena Graziano, spokeswoman for the House Homeland Security Committee told Cybercast News Service. She said the bill also has safeguards, such as requiring each local agency to submit a report to the administrator on how the grant is being used to assure accountability.
Last month, DHS announced $1.7 billion in grants for state and local governments. However, there is virtually no oversight to prevent the funds from being spent on matters unrelated to security, said the Heritage report, written by James Carafano of Heritage and Matt Mayer of Provisum Strategies.
Earlier this year, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter ordered a review that found the state's homeland security structure was inadequate. This came after a 2005 state audit found 13 percent of the state's $15.8 million in homeland security grants had been misspent on such things as office space, a bus and other items.
California has received $20 million since 2003 for health preparedness. However, according to the Trust for America's Health, a non-profit organization, California tied with Maryland, Iowa, and New Jersey for the lowest score among the 50 states in health preparedness.
Other federal grants meant for security in 2005 and 2006 went to protect a bingo hall, a limo service, a homeless shelter, and a missing persons' initiative. (See Related Story)
In 2006, Florida received more homeland security grants than any other state, 79.6 billion, followed by Texas with $34.5 billion, and Louisiana with a total of $20.1 billion, according to OMB Watch. New York - arguably the most at-risk state - ranked ninth at $4.5 billion.
But the most recent round of grants, which included $55 million for New York's transit and port security, shows things are improving, said Amy Bonanno, spokeswoman for the New York State Office of Homeland Security.
"It was quite obvious in 2005 and 2006 that we were getting a much smaller portion than we deemed appropriate, considering we face the highest threat," Bonanno told Cybercast News Service. "DHS is implementing the changes needed. It is making strides with more supplemental grant funds."
The Department of Homeland Security does not agree with Heritage's conclusions, said DHS spokeswoman Laura Keehner.
"We support a risk-based approach to grant funding," she told Cybercast News Service. "We're supporting not just the highest risk urban areas, but it's important to continue funding cities not in the top tier."
"New York is obviously the largest terrorist target. But where did the second largest terrorist attack in the United States take place? Oklahoma City," said Keehner.
"Some members of Congress believe we should only fund the tier one cities. Our argument is that would have left Oklahoma City without any funding."
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