Apair of government reports released last week highlighted concerns about how Arizona and local communities are spending precious federal dollars intended to improve homeland security.
The general conclusion: Arizona needs to do a better job of establishing and enforcing priorities for these limited funds so that our emergency responders are better prepared for terrorism threats and other major disasters.
The state General Accounting Office and the inspector general of the Arizona Department of Transportation have been reviewing the state’s handling of nearly $178 million awarded to Arizona since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The money comes from a series of federal grant programs, most of which must go to local governments to help police, fire and other emergency responders. The state established a series of regional councils, made up of local officials from that part of the state, to decide which local grant requests are funded.
Gov. Janet Napolitano ordered the spending review, in part, because of questions raised by the Tribune and other media reports in the past three years about the pace of spending as well as choices made on how to use the dollars.
ADOT Inspector General Peter N. Francis wrote the state doesn’t get enough detail about grant proposals from local governments, doesn’t provide enough oversight to the regional groups and lacks the proper criteria to adequately judge whether individual projects are important enough to deserve special federal funding.
We don’t like Francis’ implication that the state should require more paperwork from our cities and counties to qualify for these grants. The federal government is trying to keep the red tape under control so the dollars can reach communities faster.
But we agree with Francis’ suggestions the state needs a clearer set of written priorities. This list should emphasize uses benefiting regional or statewide protection, instead of strictly local needs that should be funded by local taxpayers.
That would still leave some tough choices — state-of-the-art radios and computers or hazardous material gear? Equipment for more realistic disaster
training or emergency medical kids?
The Legislature took a good step toward improving the situation this year by formally establishing a Department of Homeland Security (the previous office existed only as a governor’s executive order). This should help to clarify this agency’s responsibilities and make easier to hold officials accountable.
But it would be a bad idea for the Legislature to micromanage or politicize Homeland Security by trying to take over awarding of the grants. Instead, lawmakers can work with the governor to establish a consensus on priorities to better guide the spending choices of our local communities.