Report: Homeland Security money not being spent
From Paul Courson
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Billions of dollars earmarked by Congress for state and local homeland security are going unused because of safeguards meant to combat fraud and waste in government spending, according to a report released Thursday.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said a substantial portion of $8 billion in homeland security spending allocated over the past two years remains log jammed by a "maze" of well-intentioned regulations.
"There's a lot of money out there that needs to be distributed, both quickly and effectively," he said at a news conference Thursday. "I have no doubt that this report will not only aid us in that effort but will also prove to be an invaluable tool as we move forward to improve and streamline this process."
A task force that studied the problem, at Ridge's direction, recommended using emergency rules to exempt the money from lengthy reviews designed for routine spending.
The task force said the Department of Homeland Security should take responsibility for reviewing how the money is spent.
Ordinary procurement, legislative oversight and cash management processes cannot be relied upon in extraordinary times, the panel said.
In its report, the task force said the money has been slow to reach "first responders" because of years of legislation enacted to guard against fraud and waste in government spending.
Some state and local governments are also caught between a federal system that reimburses them for authorized spending on homeland security and their own rules that prevent purchases without money in hand, the report said.
The reimbursement requirement is particularly problematic for cash-strapped local governments, the task force found.
The lack of national safeguards guiding the distribution, tracking and oversight of homeland security grants also contributes to delays in disbursement, the panel found.
The task force also expressed concern that the vast majority of the money handed out for homeland security at the regional and local levels is earmarked for equipment, including mobile command centers, chemical and biological protective gear and other "hardware."
The report recommended that the use of such money be expanded to include covering the cost of additional anti-terror efforts by state and local law enforcement, including overtime pay for specific security operations, because those expenses are directly related to homeland security.
The task force also recommended altering state and local procedures to make it easier to accept and spend homeland security money.
Ridge will now review recommendations directly affecting his department, including the recommendation that it establish an Office of the Comptroller to assume complete financial responsibility over grant programs.
The secretary will also encourage state and local officials to implement other suggested improvements.