A $20,000 computer server gone missing. A $1 million check left for months in a mailbox. A mobile security field station squatting unused in a Lake City parking lot. Those are just a few of the blunders the governor’s Homeland Security office uncovered in Colorado as its auditors sought to track the way the state was spending federal Homeland Security funds in 2008 and 2009, according to a joint study published last week by the Center for Investigative Reporting and The Center for Public Integrity.
Investigators for the CIR / CPI study– titled “Homeland Security Boom and Bust”– filed a Colorado Open Records or CORA request to uncover a paper trail of documents (download the pdfs here) that reveal city and county officials as amateurishly haphazard in recording and inventorying purchases and keeping track of large and expensive equipment.
Hinsdale County officials purchased a 30 foot trailer for $54,000 in 2004 along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in other security equipment. No one properly inventoried the purchases and when much of the equipment apart from the trailer disappeared, there was little official way to track it. Records describe the trailer as sitting in the lot, emptied out of security equipment and unused for the last four years.
The trailer “did not appear to be used,” writes Joanne Hill, director of Quality Assurance for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security in a deadpan letter adorned with signatures and stamps.
Hill went in search of the $590,000-worth of equipment purchased by Hinsdale with the federal money to fight the War on Terror.
“At the time of our visit to Hinsdale, officials were unsure of the number and location of [All Terrain Vehicles] funded with Homeland Security monies. Officials were unable to locate radios, a bolt cutter and night vision goggles.”
Linda Neinhueser, Gunnison County Finance Director, wrote in a follow up to the initial audit that Hinsdale officials failed to realize that the trailer could be used for “anything other than WMD and Terrorism responses.” They have now put it to use as a general “Incident Command Unit.” She said that some progress had been made in locating missing equipment.
The audit problems were not confined to the state’s Western Slope. According to the documentation, Colorado’s North Central Region was forced to bring in the Arapahoe County Sherriff’s Office to investigate the disappearance of a $20,000 computer server purchased by the Denver Sheriff’s office to support security credentialing. Ultimately unable to find the server, Denver repaid the state.
Sheriff J. Grayson Robinson wrote Mason Whitney, director for the Colorado Office of Homeland Security, to explain.
“Although the Denver Sheriff’s Office conducted an exhaustive search for the credentialing server, the equipment was never located.”
Documents also show that a check in the amount of $1 million from Homeland Security sat unnoticed for more than six months in a “defunct mailbox” at the Colorado office of the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.
Daniel Alexander, director of the department, wrote that the unattended million dollar check was the fault of a previous administrator who had failed to reconcile grants and provide back-up data to his replacement. Alexander wrote that new procedures had been implemented.
In December 2007, the federal office of the Inspector General audited Colorado’s use of Department of Homeland Security funds and found that an appointed committee on homeland security had failed to provide proper guidance to the Governor’s Office. The Inspector General auditors found that from 2003 to 2006, $7.8 million in expenditures failed to comply with Homeland Security guidelines.
In 2008, Gov. Bill Ritter created a new cabinet-level position to address the kinds of problems that had plagued the state’s handling of Homeland Security funds.
The author of the report, CIR’s G.W. Schulz writes that billions have been spent by the federal government in the name of homeland security since the 9/11 attacks and that “chunks of that cash have gone to all 50 states and hundreds of localities as part of a grab-bag of federal grant programs.”
Some of the other discoveries:
Another $54,000 trailer sat abandoned behind a fire station in Michigan.
Louisiana bought dozens of new Dodge Durango SUVs totaling $1.4 million.
In West Virginia, authorities used $3,000 for lapel pins and tens of thousands more went to unallowable overtime.
The nation’s capital region spent $4.6 million on a media blitz to promote readiness.
Homeland Security money also paid for the raids authorities conducted on protesters in Minnesota at the Republican National Convention. Local and federal agents seized laptop computers, cell phones, cameras, supplies for making banners and political pamphlets, according to the report. Eight locals were arrested in the high profile raids. They were charged with “conspiracy to riot in the furtherance of terrorism” based on a state law passed after the 9/11 attacks and used for the first time during the convention.
From JoAnne Hill, Director of Quality Assurance, Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, 2 September 2008