Anti-Terrorism Funds Buy Wide Array of Pet Projects
"Please tell me we've done this contract with Sharon's folks," Robinson wrote Deputy Mayor Carolyn N. Graham in November 2002. In March, Graham told the city's health agency, "We must move it."
Pratt said it was her experience as mayor, not politics, that was critical in winning her the contract. "It requires someone who appreciates how to pull all the players together," she said.
Tony Bullock, a spokesman for Williams, said that there was nothing improper in awarding the contracts and that the work was of high quality.
Outside the District, governments had less to spend, but limited funds still ended up with friends. In Prince William County, for instance, the Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fire Department bought a boat with emergency funds, then loaded it with nearly $44,000 in supplies purchased from a company owned by two of its members.
Not Just Security
Shortly after Sept. 11, Prince George's officials concluded that the county was "unequivocally . . . vulnerable to terrorism" because of Andrews Air Force Base and other high-risk installations. A county assessment found that first responders were unprepared to handle weapons of mass destruction and needed special gas masks and protective clothing.
But when the county received $7.9 million in homeland security funds, instead of buying protective gear for police officers, it chose to purchase a half-million-dollar digital camera system used for mug shots. Officials said that the equipment was a priority because it could photograph terrorist crime scenes and that they relied on a subsequent grant to order biochemical gear. Because of the delay, police are still waiting for the specialized gas masks, according to union officials.
"If you don't have the proper masks, you aren't going to be able to go in and photograph anything anyway," said Cpl. Anthony M. Walker, president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge that represents county officers, who was interviewed shortly before his death this month. "If there was an attack, police officers and civilians would die because of our lack of preparedness."
Across the region, state and local governments fulfilled long-standing wish lists and used the homeland security funds for projects that were only tangentially related to terrorism.
Officials say they are putting these purchases to "dual use": helping with daily needs and at the same time protecting the region.
As Leslie Hotaling, director of the District's Department of Public Works, said: "If we can tie it to 9/11 and build capacity in our core functions, let's do it!"
Her agency spent more than $55,000 on basic employee training courses such as "map reading" and "handling problem employees."
In October, D.C. Council members questioned the use of homeland security dollars to pay for sanitation supervisors to attend a "Dale Carnegie" management course with no disaster preparedness instruction. City officials later relabeled the course on their documents by removing the management guru's name. The routine training helps employees better handle an emergency, Hotaling said.
Her agency used an additional $300,000 to help pay for a computerized car towing system that the mayor had promised for three years to help combat fraud by private towing companies.
The rationale: The city could use the new system to more efficiently clear streets during a terrorist attack and aid with "recovery efforts" by locating towed cars in the aftermath.
Another District agency directed $100,000 to the mayor's politically popular summer jobs program, documents show. Forty low-income young adults were trained in first aid and other emergency skills, then paid to rap and dance about emergency preparedness as part of outreach efforts. The program was nationally recognized and a "brilliant" use of money, said Deputy Mayor Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, who oversaw spending.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company