HOMELAND SECURITY Ohio, other states are slow in spending federal funds
Some local projects, such as a $1,000 portable toilet, have been questioned.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- The state has spent less than one-fifth of the money it has been given by the federal government for homeland security, a newspaper's analysis shows.
A review by The Columbus Dispatch shows that just $29 million of the state's $194 million in federal funds has been spent. An additional $12.5 million in equipment has been ordered but not yet received.
A similar proportion of homeland security money remains unspent nationwide.
In April, a U.S. House Select Committee on Homeland Security found that $5.2 billion of $6.3 billion in Department of Homeland Security grants had yet to be distributed to local emergency agencies.
"We're not trying to hide the ball," said Robert C. Glenn, spokesman for Ohio's Emergency Management Agency. "We're basically waiting on locals to send us their [grant money] requests."
Officials have also questioned some of the local projects for which money has already been granted.
In Ohio this year, they include a $1,000 heated and air-conditioned portable toilet, three boats worth a combined $550,000 and several $4,000 all-terrain vehicles, the newspaper reported.
Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Firefighters, a 270,000-member union, said such purchases are poor decisions at a time when cities don't have the basics needed for security.
"The resources that should have gone to the cities have never arrived, at a time when some places are buying very expensive toys with very limited use," Schaitberger said.
Part of the problem for cities is that federal funding for new equipment is widely available, but the government allowed funding for overtime and training of first-responders just this year.
Ohio Public Safety Director Kenneth Morckel said his department, which oversees distribution of much of the funding, carefully audits spending.
Morckel said the department has denied hundreds of requests for vehicles and even aircraft because they didn't meet federal criteria. But he said he leaves most purchasing decisions to the counties.
The three new speedboats were bought to patrol the Canadian border and protect power plants along Lake Erie and the Ohio River. Two were bought by the Department of Natural Resources and one by the Port Clinton Police Department.
The Clark County Emergency Management Agency bought a $4,000 John Deere Gator all-terrain vehicle and the pricey portable toilet.
The county sheriff said he scoffs at such purchases.
"We're buying toys for boys," said Sheriff Gene Kelly. "It's frustrating when you can have money for toys, but not the basics."
The director of the county agency that made the purchases defended them.
Director Robert Hupp said bulky hazardous-materials suits make walking difficult, and driving to a potentially dangerous site on a Gator would be easier.
Hupp said the toilet was bought because it's mobile, adding that it's already been used at interstate accident scenes.
Ohio U.S. Rep. Deborah Pryce said there isn't an easy formula for doling out the security funding.
"We have to look at our ports as well as inner cities," Pryce said. "It's a very fine line [on] how much leeway you give local officials."
The Republican representative said the government would be criticized either way -- whether it spends homeland-security grants quickly or slowly.
"It's hard to follow the money on this one," she said.
"You can't throw [money] out the door. It has to be orderly. It boils down to whether you're going to micromanage these decisions or not. ... Nobody knows what we need for sure."