In Colorado, Where the Homeland Security Money Goes

State agencies spent homeland security money on everything from chemical suits to secondhand clothing, but the bulk of expenditures aimed at making Colorado safer - millions of dollars in all - remain out of sight from the public.

That's because administrators in the state Department of Local Affairs redacted information from thousands of pages of spending records, using black pens to obliterate documents that showed exactly how tens of millions of dollars in federal homeland security money has been spent in the past three years.

The documents were made available to the Rocky Mountain News under a new law, passed by the legislature this year and signed by Gov. Bill Owens, that was meant to shed light on the use of homeland security money.

The law was supposed to open to public scrutiny all records of money spent on homeland security except those detailing specific "security arrangements or investigations."

A review of spending by Colorado state agencies - which represent roughly 20 percent of the $130 million in homeland security money given to Colorado in recent years - did give a hint of where some of the money went.

But the News review of roughly 7,500 pages of grant applications and related documents found vast swaths blacked out.

"One of the things we did fear with creating any amount of discretion in the executive branch was an abundance of redactions," said the law's sponsor, State Sen. Dan Grossman, D-Denver. "It sounds to me like those fears were well-grounded."

In some cases, entire invoices - even the name of the company that sold a product to a state agency - was obscured.

Department of Local Affairs director Mike Beasley defended the heavy redactions, arguing that certain information would lead a criminal to know a state agency's vulnerabilities.

Beasley's agency allocates the federal money. Though he was out of town Tuesday, he said in a phone interview he would be glad to look at any specific document and explain why it was blacked out.

Referring to the Department of Revenue, Beasley said its application "included very specific details about what their vulnerabilities were at specific locations and what their plan to mitigate that was - and that kind of information is going to be redacted."

Asked what he thought should be open, Beasley said: "It depends. It depends on whether that information broadcasts some vulnerability to any kind of criminal element."

Grossman, however, said he buys that "vulnerabilities" argument only to a point.

"I think the argument . . . is by disclosing what you're purchasing, you're disclosing what your vulnerabilities are," he said. "But if you are talking about invoices that have already been paid and purchases that have already been made, it makes that argument completely invalid."

Billions authorized
In response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., Congress authorized billions of dollars in new spending on homeland security. The money is doled out to states, that spend part of it and pass on the rest to local agencies, such as police and fire departments.

The Colorado State Patrol got a $131,866.49 grant to "enhance" the protection and evacuation capabilities of critical state buildings.

It also spent $84,605.74 to install underground fiber optic cables at the governor's mansion - a move designed to allow the state's chief executive to run the government from there in a serious emergency.

The Department of Agriculture spent $67,936 to install fiber optic lines at the site of the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo. Plans called for installation of a line between the livestock barn and the Palace of Agriculture, along with three wireless radio towers.

Officials making the request wrote that it was necessary to have the State Fair grounds as "a secondary facility for the department in an emergency. This campus would provide much needed surge capacity not only related to an agricultural event but could support other state, regional and local agencies as well."

But extensive redacting was frequent in the documents.

On documents spelling out a $163,803 grant to the Colorado State Patrol unit that provides security for the governor and other dignitaries, even the "project title" was redacted.

There was no way to tell how the Department of Agriculture spent $150,000 more in homeland security money.

Or what the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment's Division of Oil and Public Safety Explosive Permitting Program did with its $6,420.02 grant. The paperwork noted only that people who legally obtained permits to handle explosives had "experienced difficulties while traveling through airports."

Or even why the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was denied permission to spend $59,775.10 on unspecified requests.

In another case, a denial was spelled out.

The Colorado Army National Guard attempted to get $2,110.89 for 42 polo shirts - identified on the invoice as duty uniforms for the National Guard FSIVA (Full Spectrum Integrated Vulnerability Assessment) team.

The Division of Emergency Management reduced the reimbursement by $1,448.32.

"This item is neither in the approved budget nor an allowable expense under the critical infrastructure grant," the rejection letter read.

Some of the expenditures covered the nuts and bolts of homeland security.

For example, the state Department of Personnel and Administration's Division of Information Technologies received $664,400 to upgrade radio communications. However, there was no way to tell what kind of equipment was purchased, who got it, or how it would improve security in the state.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife got a $350,000 grant - much of it going for portable computers designed to "improve data communication" that will "expedite information when law enforcement is attempting to locate terrorist" activity, according to documents.

Rob Firth, chief of law enforcement for the Division of Wildlife, said the computers went to officers in the field. The DOW has a lot of specialized machinery, like snow cats, that might be enlisted in case of emergency, he said.

The Department of Veterans and Military Affairs spent $125.24 on clothes at a Goodwill store to be used by "actors" in a disaster drill. The same agency spent $2,985 on T-shirts and caps to "identify participants" in an industrial attack exercise at Coors brewing in Golden, and $3,364.81 on lunches at a disaster exercise in Vail.

And at a training session for University of Colorado staff, designed to "identify and assess required action in a potential WMD incident," organizers decided to spend an unspecified amount to "pay personnel and provide refreshments and lunch" so the group could continue their work uninterrupted. That reference was visible even though a heavy black line was through it.

"That's outrageous," Grossman said. "There's no legitimate reason why an expenditure like that should be redacted. That worries me more than anything else, because it sounds to me like they're redacting things that may be embarrassing or that they don't want to disclose to the public.

"This was homeland security money?" he asked. "I think it should be obvious to everyone that homeland security money shouldn't be spent on cold cuts and black Magic Markers, but I guess the executive branch disagrees."

He was critical of the administration of Gov. Bill Owens for what he described as a lack of openness on the spending of homeland security money.

"These guys came kicking and screaming to the table with any kind of openness with regard to these records," Grossman said, "so while it's not completely surprising that they have been heavy with the redacting pen, they should show a little more faith to the law they helped to negotiate."

Beasley responded angrily to Grossman's criticism, calling the senator's assertion that the administration had to be dragged into discussions about opening records "bulls---."

He said it was he and Owens who first called people together last November "way before Dan Grossman thought about running for attorney general . . . and (making) homeland security a political football."

"He's not going to get my help to let a criminal know what agencies' vulnerabilities are," Beasley said. "If he wants to do that, he can do that on his own."

Beasley also criticized Grossman for failing to attend meetings on opening the records, and he defended the lunch purchases, including the one at Vail.

"That, to date, has been the largest exercise we've had," Beasley said.

"It involved several hundred people over several days, and maybe Dan Grossman ought to attend one of these things before he criticizes it," he said.

INFOBOX
The money trail

Here is a look at some of the homeland security grants awarded to state agencies in the past three years:

* $913,700 to the Colorado Department of Public Safety for three projects dedicated to homeland security. The largest of the projects was a $718,700 outlay to sustain the Office of Preparedness and Security through September 2006, including $116,338 for the director's salary.

* $664,400 to the Department of Personnel and Administration's Division of Information Technologies for radio equipment as part of an ongoing effort to improve communication among local, state and federal agencies across Colorado.

* $470,896.11 to the Colorado Department of Criminal Justice. Some of the money went to develop a state homeland security training program.

* $466,633 to the Department of Personnel and Administration's Communications Services Section to provide equipment to "secure the state's mail facility, the state capitol and the executive residence."

Among the expenditures was $84,605.74 to "install the underground fiber optics to supply telecommunication needs at the executive residence" and $26,594 for an X-ray machine at the state capitol that would be used to examine suspicious packages.

* $350,000 to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, largely for portable computers.

* $320,000 to the Department of Public Safety for personnel protection kits, gas masks, coveralls, ballistic helmets and other items.

* $252,681.47 to the Colorado Department of Revenue to improve security on a variety of fronts - including business processing, driver's license integrity, and inspection of commercial vehicles entering the state.

* $250,000 to the University of Colorado at Boulder's Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence to complete a "risk, capabilities, and needs assessment" for the nine homeland security regions in the state.

* $150,000 to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that was to be used to "develop a system to be used for the protection of public health and safety . . . " The rest of the sentence and the following three pages of the document were blacked out.

* $150,000 to the Colorado State Patrol to purchase 18 mobile data computers.

* $125,000 to the Colorado Department of Veterans and Military Affairs to allow the Colorado National Guard to help with prevention of and response to an attack with weapons of mass destruction, an attack against a "special security event" or an attack against "critical infrastructure."

* $37,277 to the Colorado Department of Agriculture to simulate the deliberate transmission of foot and mouth disease at the Adams County Fair. Foot and mouth disease is a highly contagious disease almost exclusive to cattle, sheep, swine, goats and other cloven- hoofed animals caused by a virus. There is no known cure.

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