Since 2003, the federal Department of Homeland Security has funneled $34 billion to states to shore up their capabilities for responding to terrorism. But a number of recent investigations leading up to the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks have detailed various ways that states have mismanaged the grants or used them to go on spending sprees that have not helped them with preparedness.
One investigation by The Denver Post found that Colorado had received about $354 million in grants since 2003, but that many records of purchases were either unavailable or missing entirely.
In Iowa, which has spent about $250 million from DHS grants, The Gazette found instances where entire equipment purchases simply disappeared. For example, the Iowa Department of Administrative Services purchased a specialized microscope and freezer for $23,500 in 2004, but when asked, officials could not locate the items.
Similar problems turned up in California, where California Watch found that one police department bought $47,000 in software that they never used. In all three investigations, reporters found instances where money was spent on questionable items such as plasma-screen televisions, pens, and baseball caps. California Watch is part of the Center for Investigative Reporting, which has been tracking state spending using federal homeland security grants.
Accounting problems at the state level seem to be mirrored at the federal level. In a report released Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office found that a key area of concern for DHS was poor financial management and record keeping, practices that negatively affect the agency's "ability to have ready access to reliable information for informed decision making."
DHS funding to states has shielded law enforcement from the worst of the fiscal crises that bookended the past decade for states. However, in the current budget-cutting environment in Washington, DHS will not be immune from cutbacks that will ripple out to states and local governments.