Report Says Va. Localities Misused U.S. Security Funds
Audit Cites Purchase Of Improper Items

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 29, 2006; B01

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."

Mark R. Warner (D) was governor at the time, and former lieutenant governor John H. Hager was special assistant to the governor for commonwealth preparedness. Hager's then-deputy, George W. Foresman, took over the office in 2004. Foresman is now undersecretary for preparedness for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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."

Instead of assessing what localities faced the greatest threat, as required under grant guidelines, Virginia doled out its preparedness grants based on population, the report says.

In their written response to the inspector general, Virginia officials said they stand by their use of a population-based formula.

"The result of this simple analysis is that population can, in fact, reasonably be used as a surrogate for threat and target risk," the state said

Del. Beverly J. Sherwood (R-Frederick), chairman of the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee, said the state received an influx of money after Sept. 11, so a few mistakes were bound to occur.

"A lot of that money came down very quickly," Sherwood said. "There was a short period of time to decide the needs of those localities."

The inspector general reviewed only the $53 million in grants awarded at the time by Homeland Security's Office of Domestic Preparedness. The state and local governments received an additional $200 million from other federal sources for homeland security needs in 2002 and 2003, the report says.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company