Last month, Elevated Risk wrote about a batch of documents we’d obtained from the New York State Office of Homeland Security using open-government laws. They showed that in some cases, public safety equipment purchased with the hundreds of millions of dollars New York has received in federal homeland security grants since Sept. 11 went unused for long lengths of time.

The discovery came as New York’s congressional delegation and local leaders from the Big Apple again complained that they were being shortchanged by Washington after news surfaced that the Obama administration would be cutting back on transit and port security cash.

A combined $144 million would still be pouring into the area from the two programs (state and local communities are eligible for a dizzying array of other related grants). The Bush administration endured similar outcry when grant award totals were announced each year, and one segment of the country would inevitably feel scorned after receiving less than another.

Every county board, hospital, sheriff, police department, fire chief, jail administrator, paramedic and city council has an explanation for why they deserve more in grants funds, with the exception of a small New York town Elevated Risk pointed to July 9 located 300 miles from the big city that actually turned down a grant.

At the time of our earlier post on the NYC metro area, some records appeared to be missing from those handed over, so we followed up with state officials and asked that the rest be provided. The documents showed up last week and describe additional instances in which security devices purchased with preparedness money were not deployed, at least according to what officials themselves described in the records. The state homeland security office is responsible for seeing to it that federal anti-terrorism and readiness cash is properly managed in New York.

The records show that Pace University purchased three portable metal detectors in 2006, but when state authorities showed up more than two years later to check on the equipment, one of them still sat in its original packaging. School officials promised in response that they would press the detector into service, the documents state.

Then in the summer of 2008, according to another report, state monitors arrived at the New York Downtown Hospital to examine a card-access system funded with grants from 2005. Local grant recipients have up to three years and sometimes more to purchase equipment after the money’s actually been awarded. So the card-access system wasn’t installed until December of 2007.

But according to the report, it was “not operational” several months after that. State officials were told it needed to be wired into the Fire Department of New York, but apparently, that did not happen right away.

As state overseers put it in bureaucratic fashion: “The inability of New York Downtown Hospital to utilize items purchased under the grant leads to non-compliance of the contract. Non-compliance with contract requirements can result in disallowances and can negatively impact future funding opportunities.”

Not every local government in New York is pleased with how the state is handling its oversight responsibilities that include making site visits. State monitors reviewed $325,000 worth of grant expenditures made by Chemung County in southwestern New York State and complained in a report about relatively minor issues with record-keeping. The county bought communications equipment, a van, a thermal-imaging camera and a ballistics blanket designed to limit the impact of blasts. Chemung officials responded tersely to the state’s findings:

Perhaps the [state Office of Homeland Security] should consider developing and performing a risk analysis when determining how best to use public funds in monitoring the use of other public funds. It seems the resources used in monitoring Chemung County’s purchase of four items could have been better spent in more high-risk areas.

New York OHS

Stock.xchng image courtesy of clemmesen

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.