Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 31, 2006

Grants under fire in Virginia, Oklahoma

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS — by Christian Beckner on July 31, 2006

The DHS inspector general released an audit of Virginia’s homeland security grant spending last Friday, attracting the attention of the Washington Post over the weekend. The audit points out examples of irregular grant spending in 2002 and 2003, but these represent less than 1% ($408,000 out of $53.5 million) of the funds in 2002-03 to the state for the programs examined, and I think former Virginia homeland security advisor and current DHS Under Secretary George Foresman is correct when he defends the state’s activity in the Post:

In an interview yesterday, Foresman said the audit failed to take into account the frenzied atmosphere after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “You have to put this period in context,” he said. “They will find the same thing in all 50 states.”

Meanwhile, the Tulsa World reported yesterday that Oklahoma has spent only one-third of the money awarded to it in homeland security grants in the 2002-2006 period, and finds problems in the execution of many important state preparedness and response programs:

A $16.6 million regional response system using special trailers is unfinished and partially unequipped after years of planning. The system is the centerpiece of the state’s disaster-response plan. Funding for some segments of the plan has been extended since 2003 and probably cannot go beyond December.

A second key element of state’s preparedness plan also faces challenges. The state is spending $28 million to extend an 800-megahertz radio signal linking first-responders across the state. While the radio channel will cover a large swath of Oklahoma, key cities such as Broken Arrow and Oklahoma City would be dead to the signal without a frequency patch. The patch and other transfer methods have their limitations and could be problematic for responders during a disaster.

The findings in this story are much more serious than the IG report on Virginia, and are surprising for a state that has experienced domestic terrorism on a tragic scale. It raises serious questions about the effectiveness of the state’s homeland grant bureaucracy, and prompts questions as to whether Oklahoma deserved to be in the top 50% of states in terms of discretionary homeland security grant spending per capita for FY 2006.

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