Anti-Terrorism Funds Buy Wide Array of Pet Projects
The D.C. Department of Mental Health commissioned a $20,000 study to look at whether the 9/11 attacks increased the city's jail population. The study's use: "At this point, we've made the results known, and discussions are continuing," said agency Director Martha B. Knisley.
Her agency also paid a company at least $111,000 to assess environmental problems at the St. Elizabeths Hospital campus. Williams hopes redevelopment will transform the campus, which has commanding views of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, and planners say cleaning up the property is a critical first step.
Knisley and Kellems denied that the work was related to redevelopment and said it was necessary mostly because the campus is one of several properties that could be used as a mass casualty center. But Barbara Childs-Pair, acting director of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency, said that the city's plan lists no role for St. Elizabeths and that in emergency exercises, the site has been used only as a transfer point for equipment.
Officials in the mayor's office said that most of the money went for major initiatives that made the city safer. They noted that they had put in place an elaborate system to track the funds and that the city was the first jurisdiction in the country to have its emergency response plan nationally accredited.
Kellems said the criteria she used to evaluate projects were strict: "If it wasn't related to emergency preparedness, it was not an option," she said. "Nothing's come to my attention where I've said, 'That was just a really bad idea.' "
The mayor's spokesman also defended the government's choices in using the money. "The District has done a remarkably good job," Bullock said. "We used these federal funds to achieve remarkable progress in preparing the District government's capacity to respond to potential terrorism incidents or similar emergencies."
Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican who is pushing legislation aimed at ensuring that homeland security dollars are spent more strategically, said expenditures like some of those in the District "make me want to scream."
"It's an outrage and a misuse of this money," he said. "The money should be used for things directly related to the terrorist threat."
Plugging Budget Holes
Jack Deboy vividly remembers the chaos during the 2001 anthrax attacks. As acting director of Maryland's public health labs, Deboy had to scramble everyone in his department and train people from other divisions to test the suspicious white powder samples that came into his office.
"If it had been much larger, we would not have been able to respond," he said.
Maryland received more than $22 million in homeland security funds, with nearly $1.3 million going to personnel for Deboy's labs. But he said he is no better equipped to handle an anthrax-type scare than he was two years ago because the state cut his budget by 5 percent and some of the emergency money went to repay the state for overtime during the anthrax attacks.
The intent of the federal emergency funds was to beef up security, not to help states and local jurisdictions tread water. Suburban recipients even signed a pledge: "I hereby certify that Federal funds will not be used to replace or supplant state or local funds . . . that would, in the absence of federal aid, be made available for public safety purposes."
Nevertheless, officials across the region used the federal money to meet routine government responsibilities. Millions were spent buying everyday uniforms for police and firefighters, riot gear and ammunition. School principals got cameras for their hallways. In Manassas Park, the city hired a long-needed deputy police chief by adding emergency preparedness to his regular duties.
Congress gave the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments $5 million to "enhance regional emergency preparedness, coordination and response." The group took a 35 percent management fee and applied it to salaries, fringe benefits and "indirect" costs, including $519,000 for expenses such as rent, insurance and janitorial services at its headquarters.
To some extent, experts say it was a predictable outcome. The huge influx of federal dollars came as the region's governments were grappling with deepening budget gaps and cutting services.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company