Washington State set the standard for transparency and completeness in responding to open-records requests with information about homeland security grant spending for this project. We even used computer records supplied by authorities there to show others how we’d like to receive the material. Officials at the state’s Military Department, which is in charge of distributing federal anti-terrorism and emergency preparedness grants there, turned over dozens of electronic spreadsheets detailing individual grant transactions for state agencies and local communities. We were also provided with hundreds of pages of progress reports that show the evolution of major investments made with the grants in Washington. In addition, the state supplied us with inspection narratives and checklists, which are compiled by state employees who visit cities and counties to scrutinize safety equipment purchased with federal funds and examine invoices to make certain they support expenditures. All of it was made available in digital format, and we’ve uploaded the records here for you to look at. Openness is only one facet of good government, however, so you can download spending files and reports by jurisdiction to determine for yourself both if the grant investments seemed reasonable for your community and if the money was managed appropriately as authorities spent it. The Excel spreadsheets show purchases by product type, price, quantity, grant year and more, although in many cases like with other states some details are still limited, such as the number of grant years represented. Tiny Garfield County, estimated population 2,060, bought a $7,000 4×4 ATV and a $28,000 Ford Expedition with a siren package for “incident response,” records show. The Washington State Police picked up high-tech bomb robots and accessories totaling more than $285,000, a $343,000 armored-response truck with systems for detecting radiation and explosive gases, 30 bullet-proof flotation vests costing $58,000 and 16 pairs of night-vision goggles with a price tag of $47,000. The police department in Seattle spent millions of dollars on watercraft for responding to threats posed by chemical and biological agents, Lincoln County acquired three Blackberries for “terrorism prevention” and Spokane won five bomb suits priced at $47,300. Officials in Washington State received praise from the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, Richard Skinner, whose office has been auditing the use readiness grants around the country. A Sept. 2008 report described as a “best practice” its requirement that local grantees link their purchases to Washington’s overall preparedness strategy and establish clear plans to execute objectives. Plus, planned safety equipment must be approved by a committee that confirms the gear is allowed under guidelines, and officials determine if it can be bought more cheaply through a statewide contract already in place. But not everything was perfect. The report also found that equipment wasn’t always tracked well and when auditors wanted to check up on supplies, it sometimes took “hours or days” to find people who knew where the property was being kept. “A state agency or region must be able to quickly and easily identify the location of equipment needed for response in the event of a disaster,” the report said. In separate incidents, the inspector general also examined how Washington State used millions of dollars in disaster assistance from FEMA, issuing four reports since 2007 alone. One questioned $286,000 in costs claimed following a late 2006 winter storm. The Snohomish County Public Utilities District lacked supporting documentation for expenses, some charges were “unreasonable and ineligible” and accounting flaws led to duplicated expenditures, according to auditors. Local officials mostly agreed with the findings but disputed that they had used the wrong formula for equipment rates that led to $91,000 in “excessive” charges. Another report in Aug. 2007 zeroed in on nearly $3.6 million worth of charges against federal funds made by Washington’s Department of General Administration and stemming from an earlier earthquake. Auditors pointed to more than $600,000 worth of repairs done on the state’s legislative building that couldn’t be blamed with “convincing evidence” on the disaster itself. There were plenty of other findings, but state officials disagreed with many of them arguing among other things that FEMA approved its recovery projects and that the Department of General Administration used the right methodologies for determining what costs were justified. Frequently, battles between the states, FEMA and government auditors in Washington, D.C., over federal disaster aid can become highly convoluted, as this particular report attests, with disputes arising over such things as whether the funds can be used to pay contractors for negotiating maximum payments from FEMA itself. At times reports from the inspector general are intensely bureaucratic and almost appear to be written in a foreign language: “Once a construction timeline is established, the escalation factor is determined using a three-step process that relies on average cost escalation indices reported in the Engineering News Record. The [state of Washington] used a three-year period instead of a two-year period to determine the escalation factor. Table three shows what we computed as the monthly escalation factor based on a two-year index average and what the [Department of General Administration] computed using a three-year index average. As indicated, the department’s methodology resulted in a higher monthly escalation value being applied to determine the eligible reimbursement cost.”

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.