Report Says Va. Localities Misused U.S. Security Funds

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 29, 2006

RICHMOND, July 28 -- Virginia distributed federal homeland security grants to local governments sloppily in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, and a few of them, including Fairfax County, misspent the funds, according to an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general.

The report, released Friday, said the state was ill-equipped to distribute $53 million in grants it received from the department's Office of Domestic Preparedness in 2002 and 2003.

Virginia did not keep adequate records, failed to distribute the money based on need and was unable to monitor how local jurisdictions spent the funds, according to the report. Some of the money was used for generators, tools, cellphones, televisions and even T-shirts.

State officials disputed the report's conclusions, saying local officials can best determine a community's security and preparedness needs.

"We at the commonwealth level relied substantially on the judgment of our local responders and feel quite strongly they know what their local needs are," said Robert Crouch, assistant to the governor for commonwealth preparedness. "I think the [inspector general] is basically second-guessing judgment calls."

The report says the money was supposed to be spent to train responders, protect "critical infrastructure" or purchase specialized equipment. But a few counties and cities spent part of their share on unauthorized items.

Fairfax County purchased generators, message boards and accessories for hand-held wireless devices. The Herndon Police Department bought a television and related accessories.

Fairfax City spent $2,786 on ice-rescue equipment. The city of Falls Church bought an XM Satellite Radio weather subscription. Manassas spent $2,700 on ventilation fans and accessories.

In Bedford County, emergency management officials spent $2,350 on T-shirts and $688 on traffic cones.

Combined, the six jurisdictions spent $471,000 on "questionable" purchases, according to the report.

Fairfax County spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald said the county received state approval for all of its spending.

The report concludes, "The commonwealth could not effectively monitor local jurisdictions."

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