Texas Audit Calls for Better Oversight of Terror Grants

Austin -- Texas has not ensured that the hundreds of millions of dollars in homeland security grants it has distributed over the past several years is being spent to prevent terrorist attacks, according to a state audit.

The report from the state auditor's office says the Texas Engineering Extension Service, which administers the grant program, has no way of knowing whether local governments are spending their money wisely on materials they actually need.

The audit's findings mirror some of the weaknesses identified in a September report by The Dallas Morning News. The newspaper found that some cities used anti-terrorism funds to buy equipment for traffic stops, drug investigations and even community festivals.

After the report, state officials announced plans to hire six more auditors to monitor the program. At the time, the agency employed two monitors to check on more than $100 million of statewide expenditures and had completed just one audit.

The extension service said it agreed with many of the auditor's recommendations. It has begun requiring some grant recipients to report how they use equipment and how it fits an anti-terrorism strategy.

But the agency insists it has done an excellent job administering the state's $587 million in homeland security funds.

The audit, which covered 1999 to 2003, pointed out several cases in which poor monitoring may have allowed abuse.

One county bought 18 radios and other communication equipment from a company owned by one of its county commissioners, according to the report. The county also paid to install a radio in the commissioner's personal vehicle.

Agency spokesman Jason Cook said the commissioner's company was the only one that responded to the county's bid for radios. And he said the commissioner needed the radio in his personal vehicle because he is the county's emergency management coordinator.

State auditors have forwarded the case to their special investigation unit, which handles fraud, abuse and other criminal allegations.

In another jurisdiction, an agency used a trailer bought with grant funds to haul public education materials, according to the audit. Another hauled lawn mowers to "lawn mower drag races," the report says.

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