Not All Texas Security Money Spent on Essential Equipment

DALLAS -- While a majority of federal homeland security money sent to Texas has been spent for equipment deemed essential after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, numerous examples show expenditures that have little to do with terrorism, according to a published report.

The Dallas Morning News, which reviewed 15,000 homeland security purchases, said in Tuesday editions that some jurisdictions spent their grants on routine law enforcement and firefighting. In some cases, authorities purchased digital cameras that are routinely used to take photos of traffic accidents.

The local agencies could only spend money for items on a list of authorized equipment and were encouraged to spend the money on items they would use.

In the small town of Madisonville, money was used to buy a $30,000 custom trailer that city officials say will help with the mushroom festival in October as well as doubling as a command center in emergencies.

"We are going to start using this customized trailer as a place where people can go if they get overheated or get lost or injure themselves," City Manager Tom Ginter told the newspaper.

State authorities say the money has been spent wisely on equipment and training that helps the local agencies respond to natural disasters or terrorist attacks, or to help other agencies, The News reported. The grants are to be spent to help the local agencies improve their ability to respond to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive weapons.

"We don't know where an incident may occur," said Jay Kimbrough, a senior adviser on homeland security to Gov. Rick Perry. "Everybody in metro or rural Texas has a right to have a base level of preparedness."

The newspaper review found that $34.4 million of the $113 million spent in 2002 and 2003 has been for communications equipment. Among the items purchased are devices that allow communication among public safety agencies even when they use different radio frequencies.

"The way the money has been doled out ... everybody gets something," said Bill Gross, who retired in June as emergency management coordinator for the city of Dallas. "If everybody gets something, there is not enough money for the guys facing the greatest threat."

The newspaper said the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas was awarded a grant of more than $19,000 although it did not apply for one. Somervell County officials, where TXU's Comanche Peak nuclear power plant is located, didn't complete the proper paperwork about the vulnerability to terrorist attack and received nothing.

The News also found that thousands of dollars were spent on flashlights, traffic cones, binoculars and portable radios.

In Webster, outside Houston, Police Chief Ray Smiley said the 17 digital cameras the department purchased don't have an application for homeland security. They are used for taking photographs at car accidents and crime scenes.

"You are talking about homeland security. I am not too sure where a camera fits into it," Smiley said. "But the grant allowed us to purchase those cameras for that purpose. I guess it falls into their guidelines."

Kimbrough said the purchase was acceptable.

"Today they use it to take a picture of an accident," Kimbrough said. "Tomorrow, if a bridge blows up, they will use the same equipment. Nowhere will this equipment be put on a shelf and never used."

Throckmorton County Sheriff John Riley says he doesn't know what type of equipment would be classified solely as homeland security equipment. He uses night vision goggles purchased with grant money to check on anhydrous ammonia tanks. The chemical is often stolen for the making of methamphetamines.

"The grant helped a lot in a small county like ours where the funding is not always there," he said.

Kimbrough said the state's decisions on the grants was based on a funding formula that considered a jurisdiction's population and what surrounds it. Sixty-four percent of the state's jurisdictions accounting for 95 percent of the state's population have received money.