Officials at the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency turned over fairly detailed Excel spreadsheets listing anti-terrorism grant transactions containing the type of equipment purchased, how much it cost, who bought it and more. You can download the records here, but they’re limited to a five-year period. Since states are reimbursed with grant funds after first buying homeland security equipment and services with their own money, local communities often don’t actually receive the cash until long after awards are announced. In Nebraska’s tiny Arthur County, where the estimated population in 2008 was just 338, a local sheriff bought ballistic body armor and $1,900 worth of motion detectors. Eleven of Nebraska’s counties, in fact, have fewer than 1,000 residents, according to census figures, but the state has nonetheless received tens of millions of dollars in grants since 2001. Vote-conscious members of Congress have sought to ensure everyone is eligible to receive at least a base amount regardless of population or other factors such as vulnerability. In Nebraska’s Keith County there are fewer than 9,000 people, but local officials using 2004 grants scooped up thousands of dollars in scuba gear including wet suits, full-face masks costing $4,600 each, knives, thermal garments, underwater lights and more, all listed as response equipment for threats posed by nuclear, biological and radiological agents. A water department in the Village of Potter with 397 residents needed eight surveillance cameras at a cost of $4,500, and larger Columbus, Neb., acquired a $28,000 hazardous materials response-vehicle. The Columbus Fire Department also boasted in 2008 that FEMA had awarded it $500,000 for a “state-of-the-art, 48-foot long fire training trailer that allows live-fire, gas-fueled training in a safe and environmentally sound manner.” Nebraska’s biggest city, Omaha, bought a $141,000 bomb robot, 30 sophisticated radio headsets at a price of $632 each and a $17,000 public-address system for a police department helicopter. The sheriff’s office in Douglas County where Omaha is situated used grant funds for $115,000 worth of X-ray machines to enhance building security. Hundreds more listings are contained in the files. Detractors have called homeland security grants a new variety of government pork used by lawmakers to woo constituents, and the Cornhusker State’s congressional delegation hasn’t labored to prove them wrong. Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska complained in early 2009 that the legally mandated minimum in anti-terrorism grants his home state was entitled to had been unjustly reduced for the year by the Department of Homeland Security to the tune of $464,000. In a press release, Nelson characterized the cuts as an issue of big-city elitism: “Those of us who have fought long and hard for a minimum level of fairness in these grant formulas are not about to sit idly by while the department rewrites the rulebook to the detriment of small, rural states. … This isn’t the first time I’ve run into problems with this agency. Last year, I took them to task when they eliminated Omaha’s right to even apply for homeland security funding under the Urban Area Security Initiative. They arbitrarily shut our largest city out of the process and it took a fight to get them to change the decision. There appears to be a bureaucratic bias against states with small populations that we must always be aware of because when it comes to rural living and small states, Washington just doesn’t get it.”

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.