Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal made national headlines in early 2009 when he declared that his state would reject as much as $100 million worth of stimulus funds contained in President Barack Obama’s economic recovery package due to provisions Jindal warned would lead to a tax increase on businesses. “Democratic leaders say their legislation will grow the economy,” Jindal said in a speech about the stimulus plan. “What it will do is grow the government, increase our taxes down the line, and saddle future generations with debt.” But what Jindal didn’t mention was that four years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of New Orleans, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness actually lost track of all the disaster recovery, emergency preparedness and homeland security funds it’d been placed in charge of overseeing. The state homeland security office’s annual fiscal report is a crucial document that declares how much Louisiana has received and managed across a litany of federal assistance programs, from anti-terrorism grants to funds for hazard mitigation designed to protect infrastructure against future catastrophes. Good government starts with good accounting, and authorities can’t ensure efficiency and proper bookkeeping without knowing how much is in the bank, something that would surely be essential to an advocate of greater taxpayer protections. In fact, government officials have to legally swear by the accuracy of annual fiscal reports. However, auditors found in March of 2009 that for the second consecutive year, the governor’s office made misstatements in its financial report totaling tens of millions of dollars. Two accounting categories contained understatements of a combined $50 million, one of which was supposed to list how much Louisiana owed to applicants of a major federal disaster recovery program. The governor’s office was given a second chance to revise the report, but one month later after a resubmission of the document, it still contained several inaccuracies that made it unreliable as a source of information about the state’s account balances. Millions in federal funds were variously over-and-under stated. The office had not adequately trained its accounting staff, according to an audit, and supervisors didn’t review the fiscal report for correctness, a shortcoming that can allow fraud to occur while going undetected, among other things. The governor’s homeland security director responded that the wrong set of data had simply been used for the annual fiscal report and that many such year-end documents are due during the heart of hurricane season when the state’s attentions may be elsewhere. Jindal when he took office also vowed to rid Louisiana of its legendary corruption. The state’s history of controversial power brokers extends far back to the days of machine politician Huey “Kingfish” Long, notorious for stacking government institutions with cronies who did his bidding in exchange for favorable positions. Waste, fraud and abuse uncovered by watchdogs, such as Louisiana’s prolific state auditor, show how much the tradition continues – and the uphill battle faced by Jindal. The federal government’s own costly mismanagement of the Hurricane Katrina response is a story that’s been told by now in numerous reports from the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general and congressional investigators at the Government Accountability Office in Washington. But Louisiana like every other state has received millions of dollars in federal grants to both fight terrorists and prepare for catastrophes since Sept. 11, even if it’s largely been overshadowed by the billions needed to respond to Katrina and rebuild the Bayou State. Like some other states, Louisiana has its own tales of dubious spending practices to tell when it comes to such grants, in addition to the flawed oversight of recovery aid exposed since the storm. In 2006, for example, a fire protection district in northwest Louisiana’s Bienville Parish decided to use $95,000 from a homeland security grant for new personal protective equipment known as “bunker gear” and designed for firefighters. The district by law needed to competitively bid out the purchase in order to get the best deal possible for taxpayers. It hired a man to write the bid specifications who also happened to own his own firefighter supply company, which he claimed was the only one to submit an offer to sell the equipment. As it turned out, the bid was never advertised, nor did anyone seek competitive price quotes from another business, so the man in charge of the purchase had an unfair advantage and predictably won the contract, auditors concluded in late 2007. In addition, he was months late in supplying four sets of the new gear, and local officials eventually learned that the man had purchased it for nearly $2,000 cheaper from another company before selling it to the district with a sizeable mark-up. Elsewhere, auditors discovered in September of 2008 that the volunteer fire department in Independence, La., spent thousands of dollars in FEMA reimbursements on unauthorized wages and overtime. A federal judge in 2007 sentenced that same town’s police chief in a separate incident to five years probation and ordered him to pay $4,500 in restitution to the federal government after he claimed overtime costs and vehicle usage that didn’t occur. In the city of Leesville, auditors discovered during 2006 that it was excessively reimbursed by more than $50,000 for work related to Hurricane Katrina. But two years after the excessive charges were identified, the money still had not been paid back. The Homeland Security Department’s inspector general has also carried out numerous audits of local governments that received aid from Washington after Katrina and questioned large costs. On the other hand, the governor’s office supplied us with one of the best documents we’ve seen in the United States explaining how Louisiana spent its homeland security grants. Many states do not maintain a central source of information to document grant expenditures, such as a spreadsheet listing each and every bomb robot and incident-command truck purchased, who built it, how much it cost and which community uses it. Yet Louisiana gave us one mammoth PDF file available for download below. It’s sorted by jurisdiction, and you can easily scroll through it for a look at where the money has gone. As a snapshot, our analysis shows that communities across Louisiana spent a total of $1.4 million on several-dozen new Dodge Durangos. All of them are categorized for “terrorism incident prevention” and threats posed by chemical, biological and nuclear agents. Officials told us that many communities chose Durangos because they could be purchased at a relatively reasonable price off a state contract and the trucks are large enough to carry required equipment. They also said the Durangos could be used for things like mobile command and bomb response. Federal grants also afforded the state $600 worth of jambalaya, gumbo, rice and cornbread during training exercises, plus more edibles for other events including smoked sausage, brisket, dirty rice, baked beans and sandwich trays. The state’s smallest parish in northeast Louisiana, Tensas, population 5,700, bought with its homeland security grants three Ford SUVs and a GMC Yukon for a total cost of $111,000. The trucks are described in records as “incident-response vehicles.”

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.