Justice Department slow to get anti-terrorism funding to states

In the last three fiscal years, only 23 of 56 states and other jurisdictions have received federal funds from a Justice Department program to supply biological, chemical and radiological response equipment for emergency officials.

Only $68 million of the $145 million budgeted for the last two fiscal years and none of the $122 million set aside for fiscal 2002 has been disbursed, leaving $199 million in federal coffers, officials said.

The funds are intended to help 50 states and five U.S. territories--Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the North Mariana Islands--plus the District of Columbia prepare for any future terrorist attacks employing weapons of mass destruction, officials said.

Justice officials said they expect to begin issuing the remaining $77 million of the fiscal 2000 and 2001 funds in coming months, and possibly to begin sending out portions of this fiscal year's $122 million within the calendar year.

"Some [jurisdictions] are likely to receive [this year's funds] in future fiscal years because of the amount of time it has taken" for them to complete their plans and applications, said Glenda Kendrick, spokeswoman for the department's Office of Justice Programs.

While neither Justice nor any single state or jurisdiction appears solely to blame for the delay, department officials acknowledged that their grant application process is laborious and say the intended recipients have been slow to complete paperwork.

"There were states that didn't apply for the 1999 money until 2000, 2001 or even 2002," Kendrick said, referring to the three-year equipment program the department started in 1999 and, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, continued for this year. For fiscal 2003 the program is being shifted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"It was a very complex process that we asked them to do," Kendrick continued. "Some states would say too complex."

"It can be a lengthy process," David Hess, another department spokesperson, said, adding that the final state completed its application recently. "It requires some pretty intensive and comprehensive collection of information."

As of Oct. 17, when Attorney General John Ashcroft wrote to governors asking them to complete grant applications by Dec. 15 with assurances that Justice would be quick to approve them, only Utah, which was preparing for the 2002 Winter Olympics, had met all the federal requirements and received its full funding, officials said.

In order to receive the federal funds, states and jurisdictions must first assess their WMD threats, an evaluation endorsed by their governor--or, in the case of the District of Columbia, the mayor--then submit equipment requirements to Justice officials for review. Once approval is given states and jurisdictions must then fill out the "complex" Justice grant application forms, department officials said.

Besides the 23 states that have received fiscal 2000 and 2001 funds, the other 27 have already filed their applications with Justice, with only two awaiting department approval, according to Hess. Payments to those 27 have been delayed mainly because they only recently filed their applications, he said.

The funds are expected to pay for such protective gear as gas masks and suits, communications equipment and biological, chemical and radiological detection and decontamination devices, they said.

Specifically forbidden are purchases of vehicles and trailers, everyday computer equipment or firearms and ammunition, according to a Justice "application kit" obtained by Global Security Newswire.

Because the department's "state domestic preparedness equipment program" is geared to equip first responders--such as firefighters, police, ambulance crews and doctors--Justice urges that states funnel the money to the local level, the application document says.