Reporters are discovering one unique way to examine spending from President Obama’s stimulus package: comparing it to the disarray that surrounded homeland security grants after Sept. 11. With a little help from the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Voice of San Diego produced this story on May 20. We’ve also covered California’s grant spending in the past.

In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government flooded California with money to help the state ramp up its homeland security effort. San Diego benefited greatly from the spending, reaping more than $20 million in homeland security grants since 2002.

But while San Diego and other local governments spent the federal money, the state scrambled to keep track of where all the cash was going. As California’s spending on homeland security ballooned from a few million in 2000 to more than $500 million in 2003, the state’s effort to account for all the money became akin to “trying to build a bicycle while you’re riding it,” according to one senior state official.

It took the state more than five years to get around to checking on San Diego’s spending of the federal grants, according to state and county audits. Those documents reveal that for the first few years the federal money poured into San Diego, few formal procedures existed to track whether the money was actually being spent on the purpose for which Congress made it available: Making San Diegans safer.

When the federal government did its own checking, it found that, as a result of the state of California’s poor monitoring of the homeland security money, local governments had been allowed to misspend millions of dollars. California was also unable to adequately measure whether the vast amounts of money actually helped to protect the state’s citizens, a federal audit concluded.

Now, the federal government plans to send California more than $80 billion—an amount that makes the state’s homeland security spending look puny—via the stimulus package. The city of San Diego hopes to claim more than $56 million of that money, and the county and other local cities, schools, and agencies hope to pick up tens of millions more.

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.