Officials in Massachusetts agreed to turn over records showing how the state had used its homeland security grants since 2001. But purchases there weren’t tracked in an electronic list like a spreadsheet as some others have done, so clerical workers would need to Xerox thousands of pages of hard-copy records. We’d be expected to pay their wages of at least $22 an hour. Massachusetts authorities would also have to redact any security-sensitive information, they said in a response letter, bringing the total cost quoted to $7,244.80. That wasn’t an expense we could afford, so the state offered as an alternative to send “sample” documents containing a snapshot of homeland security spending in Massachusetts. While not actual invoices from expenditures, we have uploaded some of the documents here. Meanwhile, there are other publicly available records that give a greater impression of potential mismanagement with federal funds in the Bay State. Auditors discovered in March of 2008 that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health couldn’t find a mass casualty trailer purchased with bioterrorism grants. Another trailer contained equipment that was either still in its original packaging or had never been tested. In other words, the trailers were not in a “state of readiness.” Massachusetts bought 10 of the trailers for approximately $42,000 each. An audit report also found that periodic drills involving the trailers and emergency-response equipment inside them had not occurred. “Local and state officials make a grand show of parading their new toys before citizens eager for some official sense of safety,” a subsequent editorial in the Boston Herald complained. “But if the equipment is simply parked in a driveway somewhere, with no continuously updated plan for using it, then what’s the point?” In response, the health department promised to carry out necessary training and better-monitor the location of trailers. But that’s not all. An entirely separate audit released the same month found that due to “confusion” and a “lack of coordination,” the state of Massachusetts for two years held up more than $600,000 in disaster aid that was destined for local public housing authorities in need of recovery construction work following a 2006 flood. Later in the year Massachusetts auditors again reported on the use of homeland security grants. According to an audit, the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security admitted that it spent nearly $900,000 more from the grants on management and administrative expenses than federal rules allowed. They vowed to make up for the overage in future grants. The audit report also said Massachusetts nearly lost a chance to spend $1.75 million in grants, because it failed to request an extension when the money went unused for a lengthy period of time. Officials conceded that a mistake was made by not pursuing the deadline extension and blamed the problem on “staffing issues.” The federal Department of Homeland Security allowed them to use the money in the end. Massachusetts additionally bought 300 units of mace costing $3,000, but auditors called the purchase prohibited.
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