Arizona has figured prominently in the evolution of the Department of Homeland Security since its creation in 2003. When Barack Obama took office, he appointed the state’s governor, Janet Napolitano, to head the department, and she was confirmed by Congress with little opposition. But some critics, including reporters who covered her meteoric rise as a politician, argued that Napolitano was likelier to dodge controversy or lean in favor of public opinion after evaluating the mood of voters, rather than make tough decisions that might stunt her career’s trajectory. A Phoenix-based alternative news weekly, New Times, raised repeated questions about her ties to a controversial figure from Maricopa County named Joe Arpaio, who bills himself as “America’s toughest sheriff” and is perhaps best known for dying pink the jail attire used by inmates. Arpaio has since become a national flashpoint in the debate over immigration for his zeal in taking advantage of a U.S. Justice Department program that allows local authorities to make arrests based on federal immigration violations. As governor, Napolitano allied herself with Arpaio and sent a joint letter to the nation’s then-homeland security chief, Michael Chertoff, complaining that a regional office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement wasn’t doing enough to support the sheriff’s crusade of arrests under anti-human smuggling laws. New Times accused Napolitano of cozying up to the sheriff when it suited her ambitions. Arpaio currently is facing investigation by federal authorities for possible racial profiling and other civil rights violations in carrying out aggressive immigration raids and sweeps. He’s insisted the probe is being sought by political opponents intent on destroying him and has vowed not to let any federal inquiry slow him down. Another Arizona newspaper, the East Valley Tribune, won the Pulitzer Prize in April of 2009 for a five-part series of stories that examined whether Arpaio’s passion for arresting undocumented immigrants had led his office to neglect violent-crime investigations and other areas of public safety. As for Arizona’s use of federal homeland security grants, we made little progress in determining what types of purchases occurred across the state. The office in charge of anti-terrorism spending has changed frequently since 2001. First the Arizona Division of Emergency Management held that responsibility, but it was later shared with the state’s Office of Homeland Security within the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs. The grants management role changed yet again in 2006 when a new Arizona Department of Homeland Security was established. After untangling the confusing web and determining who to contact, we learned after submitting multiple open-government requests that the state had no spending records available electronically, such as an Excel spreadsheet or PDF listing individual purchases that many other states have created. Everything would have to be photocopied from paper documents, but that was a logistical challenge considering the thousands of pages worth of grant applications involved. “At the Arizona Department of Homeland Security, we are interested in digitizing records but have no concrete or funded plans in place to do so at this time,” spokeswoman Amy Bolton said. Nonetheless, auditors did find in a 2008 report that due to a flawed accounting system at one of the offices overseeing grant expenditures, Arizona had excessively charged the federal government by $1.7 million. A separate audit in Sept. 2008 from the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general found only minor paperwork issues but still pointed out Arizona’s failure to effectively watchdog local communities receiving grant funds. The federal government says that without proper monitoring, states can’t tell if new equipment and training is leaving them better prepared.
G.W. Schulz is a reporter for Reveal, covering security, privacy, technology and criminal justice. Since joining The Center for Investigative Reporting in 2008, he's reported stories for NPR, KQED, Wired.com, The Dallas Morning News, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones and more. Prior to that, he wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and was an early contributor to The Chauncey Bailey Project, which won a Tom Renner Award from Investigative Reporters and Editors in 2008. Schulz also has won awards from the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California Chapter. He graduated from the University of Kansas and is based in Austin, Texas.More by G.W. Schulz