Homeland security inspectors analyze grant spending delays
State and local governments have spent less than two-thirds of $2.4 billion in grants that were made available to support homeland security first responders from 2002 to 2003, the DHS inspector general reported in a March audit. The audit concluded that numerous reasons contributed to the slow spending of funds; some are unavoidable, but others could be eliminated.
"In some instances, states and local jurisdictions had delayed spending funds pending the completion of statewide risk assessments and homeland security strategies and the development of detailed spending plans, believing that spending the funds wisely was more important than spending them immediately," the report said.
The audit reviewed the overall award, distribution and spending of first responder grants made under the fiscal 2002 State Domestic Preparedness Program, the fiscal 2003 State Homeland Security Grant Program and the fiscal 2003 State Homeland Security Grant Program Part II. According to DHS' Office of Domestic Programs, state and local governments had drawn down 36 percent, 13 percent and 10 percent of money in those programs respectively.
The audit found, however, that the amounts of funds drawn down did not give an accurate picture of the progress states and local jurisdictions have made in meeting homeland security needs. "A more accurate way to monitor progress would be to identify the amount of funds obligated and spent by the states and local jurisdictions," the audit said.
In some cases, states obligated grants for certain purposes, but did not immediately draw down money. In other cases, states spent their own money with the intention of getting reimbursed by grants. For example, as of September 2003, Ohio and Pennsylvania obligated and spent more than 98 percent of their fiscal 2002 grant awards, even though the Office of Domestic Programs showed that only 36 percent and 8 percent, respectively, was drawn down. For 10 other states studied, obligations and spending totaled 42 percent versus 18 percent reported as drawn down.
State and local governments cited federal requirements and guidelines, state and local planning processes, and procurement issues as the main reasons for delays in spending. For the most part, however, states praised ODP's technical assistance, automated grant application process and reductions in the amount of time it takes to approve grants.
To ensure that the nation's first responders are prepared for incidents of terrorism, the report recommends that ODP require more meaningful reporting by grantees and develop performance standards that can be used to measure overall success of grant programs; assist state planning efforts by accelerating the development of federal guidelines for first responder capabilities, equipment, training and preparedness exercises; and work with grantees to identify and publicize best practices and strategies that speed spending.
DHS spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the audit "reaffirms a lot of things that we recognized about getting homeland security funds out the door and into the hands of those that need it." He said DHS does not disagree with anything in the audit.
Roehrkasse said the Bush administration has made an unprecedented amount of grant funding totaling about $8 billion available to first responders, which state and local governments are not accustomed to handling.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge established a task force last month comprised of state and local representatives in order to identify the best practices for distributing funds. The task force is expected to issue recommendations in May.
"There was a general frustration on DHS' part, Congress' part and states' and locals' parts [over] why the funding wasn't flowing faster, and we are now all working together to make the money flow better in the future," Roehrkasse said.