WASHINGTON -- States have spent only 14 percent of the $2.2 billion set aside last year for emergency first responders, the Homeland Security Department's assistant inspector general told lawmakers Tuesday.
Moreover, of $882 million in first-responder funds awarded in 2002 and 2003, 19 percent remains unspent, said J. Richard Berman, the department's assistant inspector general for audits.
Berman blamed the spending delay on a wide range of reasons - from incomplete state risk assessments to unclear federal guidance.
Homeland Security should "require more meaningful reporting by states so it can track progress more accurately, and assist states when necessary," Berman said in written testimony at a House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing.
At issue at the hearing was ensuring that federal funding flows to areas of the country that face the greatest threats.
New York has so far spent $88.6 million - 86 percent - of the $103 million it was awarded in fiscal year 2004, more than any other state, according to Homeland Security documents included in Berman's written testimony. By comparison, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and Wyoming have yet to dip into their 2004 first-responder grants, the documents show.
"How can so much money be lost?" asked House Homeland Security Chairman Christopher Cox, R-Calif., who was questioned about the spending delay before the hearing. "Is this like Enron?" Cox asked rhetorically. "It's billions of dollars that Congress appropriated. Where did it go?"
Homeland Security began requiring states last year to submit plans "to ensure that the funding goes toward the greatest needs," spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said. Since 2002, the department "has proposed allocating more funds and resources toward risk-based factors," Roehrkasse said.
Cox filed legislation Tuesday to ensure that state and local first responders quickly get and spend federal homeland security grants - and that most of the money is awarded based on risk. The Senate will consider a separate bill Wednesday that would also distribute funds to areas that face the greatest threats but gives all states a larger base grant.
Many lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol agree that money should not be awarded based on state population numbers alone. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who will testify before the House committee Wednesday, similarly has said he does not automatically equate threat risk with urban areas.
David Miller, administrator of Iowa's Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, told lawmakers that rural areas that foster the nation's food supply are highly vulnerable to terror attacks too.
"If economic disruption and panic is what the foreign terrorists are after, an attack on our food supply, our power grid, or our computer or banking networks would be a far greater calamity," Miller told the House panel.