By Jim Kouri
A blogger for a non-partisan Washington, DC watchdog group discovered that a Department of Homeland Security program — that allocates well over half a billion dollars annually to aid high-risk urban areas protect against terrorism — is plagued with rampant fraud, waste and abuse. The malfeasance was laid out in a scathing federal audit this week.
Known as the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), the program provides funding — more than $660 million in 2011 — to address the unique planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercise needs of high-threat, high-density urban areas, according to the DHS.
This is supposed to be achieved by aiding participating local governments in building an enhanced and sustainable capacity to prevent, protect against, respond to and recover from acts of terrorism.
One example of how this innovative program is failing can be found in a Homeland Security Inspector General report made public this week by the agency’s Office of the Inspector General.
According to the Judicial Watch blogger, it focuses on $45 million in funds allocated to Cook County, Illinois — which includes President Barack Obama’s hometown of Chicago — in the last few years to enhance public safety.
Cook County authorities called their UASI-funded initiative “Project Shield,” which was supposed to provide municipalities with the equipment to improve response to terrorist attacks and disasters.
Under the plan, this was supposed to be accomplished, in part, by equipping police in dozens of departments with vehicles capable of mobile data transmission of video, audio and text as well as a tower camera. The information, including feed pictures from fixed mounted cameras, was to be shared among 128 suburban agencies in case of a terrorist attack or other man-made or natural (hurricane, earthquake) emergency.
Instead, investigators who compiled the report after conducting a six-month probe discovered that a lot of the sophisticated, so-called “state of the art” electronic equipment malfunctioned, was missing, or wasn’ installed in the first place.
The investigators concluded that the project was “not implemented effectively” and found that “millions of tax dollars may have been wasted on equipment that does not perform as intended,” according to the Judicial Watch blog.
The IG’s report further reveals that the federal funds were not always used appropriately and that Cook County was “not always in compliance with federal regulations, agency administrative requirements and relevant Office of Management and Budget circulars.”
“That’s because the feds kept pouring money into the initiative without bothering to follow up if it was being properly used,” wrote the JW blogger.
“While this particular audit focused on Cook County, it’s not far-fetched to assume that some of this is going on with other urban recipients of these federal funds. After all, there is no oversight once the cash is doled out,” said JW’s blog.
“The Cook County probe was conducted only because two federal lawmakers from the state—Republican Senator Mark Kirk and Democrat Congressman Mike Quigley—requested it.”