A federal grant that fosters collaboration among six North Jersey counties was slashed by 40 percent this year -- at a time when those counties are independently spending their pots of homeland security money in wildly divergent ways.
State officials say they have used the Urban Area Security Initiative grant to link Newark and Jersey City with nearby Bergen, Morris, Passaic and Union counties to address regional targets such as roadways and stadiums.
But the federal government has cut funding for the regional collaboration from nearly $32 million in 2004 to $19.3 million in 2005.
Meanwhile, the urban security grant increased 30 percent nationally.
"In some cases, we reduced the scope of a project," said Scott DiGiralomo, deputy director of the Morris County Office of Emergency Management, who also heads the UASI group.
In one case, $1 million that was allocated for protecting some health care facilities was cut in half, he said.
"A couple of projects we cut out completely," DiGiralomo said.
Counties that border one another have been spending hundreds of millions of dollars in federal homeland security money with little cooperation. Documents obtained by The Record show discrepancies in the amount of money spent by Bergen, Passaic and Morris counties on basic items, such as stretchers and chemical manuals. Out of the $226 million in federal homeland security funding that it oversees, the state Attorney General's Office distributes 80 percent directly to all 21 counties.
On Wednesday, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-Harding, called on state Attorney General Peter Harvey to exercise more oversight and to create a coordinated plan for how counties are spending the money.
"In some ways he needs to be providing a greater amount of planning direction and vision," Frelinghuysen said.
Roger Shatzkin, a spokesman for Harvey, said the state has a vision and a plan that are modeled after the urban area initiative of regional alliances.
"We're moving toward an unprecedented cooperative system in what is essentially a home-rule state," Shatzkin said. "This is a transition we understood couldn't be done overnight."
The state also has come under fire from Frelinghuysen and other lawmakers for being slow to spend the money. Overall, less than half of the state's $303 million in homeland security funding has been spent.
The Attorney General's Office has argued that it is more time-consuming -- but ultimately more effective -- to let the counties and their local emergency responders decide what to buy.
Acting Governor Codey has ordered a review of the spending process to see how it could be improved, a spokesman said Wednesday.
"This needs to be coordinated with local officials and we need to be sure that we are buying the necessary items," said the spokesman, Sean Darcy. "But that doesn't mean we should be running out and buying things."
Although the state has tried to use UASI grants to join counties on regional projects, even those funds have fallen victim to a slow process. Newark and Jersey City were so behind in accounting for money allocated to them under UASI that the state last month threatened to redirect the unused funds, said Bob Caccese, who oversees the state's grant unit.
Two days later, the cities had spent or allocated $4 million, said Caccese.
"They're lazy about reporting," Caccese said. "They had put orders in and they hadn't told us."
The UASI grant focuses on securing transportation routes, chemical and drug manufacturers, hospitals, water reservoirs and places that draw big crowds, like malls and sports complexes. Meetings involve 70 to 100 people, with the Newark fire chief sitting next to a volunteer firefighter from Morris County, DiGiralomo said.
Grant money has been used to operate a helicopter that the U.S. military is giving to Newark, as well as to pay for a pair of million-dollar boats that are scheduled to be docked in Newark and Jersey City by late fall.
In addition, UASI funds in 2004 paid for a communication tower in Essex County to support the region, as well as two human patient simulators for $696,000.
The group also spent $3.2 million on two large foam delivery systems for Morris County and Elizabeth fire agencies and six smaller systems for other fire departments.
While state officials say they're working toward establishing communication between regional groups, the government is stepping in to give guidance on how to spend the $12 billion in federal homeland security grants that have flowed into state and county coffers since 2002, said spokesman Marc Short.
In April, the Department of Homeland Security issued its first "National Preparedness Goals" statement, which aims at giving states and municipalities guidelines for how to best spend their homeland security money.
The goals encourage states to expand regional collaboration and to strengthen communication between agencies. They also call on states to build up chemical, biological, radiation, nuclear and explosive weapons detection.
"The federal level will be providing more guidance, there's no doubt about that," Short said.