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Homeland Security, Where Does The Money Go?

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The Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security describes its mission in simple terms. It wants to prevent terrorist attacks, reduce the state's vulnerability to attacks and help the state recover if a terrorist attack happens. It's spent millions of dollars to do that, but in a News On 6 investigation Scott Thompson found that, for now, its mission does not include any follow-up on how the money's being spent.

"I think they're doing a fabulous job, we're tickled to death with them," said Lieutenant Donnie Krumsiek with the Coweta Police Department.

The City of Coweta is a big fan of the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security, and it's easy to see why.

"We've been able to secure evidence lots. We've been able to do automatic door entry, security, ballistic glass for the police department," Krumsiek said.

Thanks to more than $2 million in federal grants, Coweta has made some major upgrades to both its police and fire departments. The city bought everything from a new radio system to digital surveillance cameras, and it hopes to buy more.

Coweta isn't alone.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security has been busy. It's sent more than $109 million in federal grants to police and fire departments across the state. The cash has gone to cities large and small; to big departments staffed by professionals and to tiny ones manned by volunteers. But not every department is satisfied with the system.

"We don't make a run at everything they put out there," said Bixby Fire Chief Steve Abel.

Some departments, like Bixby, say they're happy to prepare for possible terror attacks, but they say they could use more help in getting equipment and training for every-day emergencies.

"Criticism is everywhere in this business," Abel said. "There's always somebody mad that they didn't get something that they think they should have gotten."

A small decontamination trailer sent to the Washington County Emergency Management in Bartlesville is a good example. It's part of Homeland Security's statewide plan to respond to terrorist attacks. The office bought 24 of them at $43,000 each, and sent them to smaller departments around Oklahoma. The Owasso Fire Department got one, so did the Bixby Fire Department. It's been almost two years since the purchase, but no one from the state has ever visited the departments to see how, or even if, they use the trailers.

"As far as someone specifically making a site visit just for that sole purpose, I can't say that that's occurred," said Kary Cox with Washington County Emergency Management.

"To my knowledge, here? No, I don't believe so," Abel said. "Our only contact with them is when we break something during training."

That's the problem a state audit uncovered. In black and white it says the Homeland Security Office has no way of making sure federal grant money is spent properly. The departments we talked to agree, saying they expect more oversight and would even welcome it.

"That's just smart government, that's just good government," Owasso Fire Department Deputy Chief Chris Garrett said. "I would expect it, as would anyone who's applying for one, there's got to be some oversight."

So why hasn't the department set up a monitoring system to make sure no one abuses the system?

"There is nothing within the federal guidelines that says we have to do that," said Oklahoma Homeland Security Director Kerry Pettingill.

Kerry Pettingill says his staff has done a good job of using paperwork and informal visits to check up on grant recipients. But he admits on-site monitoring is a problem for his department.

"What I'm going to have to do is hire someone, and that's going to be their job," Pettingill said. "So the next question I would assume would be 'Well, why haven't you done that?' Well, I gotta have a place to put them."

The director has now found office space for that new employee, but he's still not going to make on-site monitoring a priority.

"I believe that monitoring is not a full-time job because we're not going to go to every place that has received a grant, it's impossible for us to do that," said Pettingill.

For that reason, even local departments say it's only a matter of time until someone abuses the grant system.

"We have that same problem in local government whether we're talking about mayors or county commissioners; you have those issues from time to time. It's going to happen," Cox said.

The Director of the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security says local departments that apply for grants promise, in writing, to follow the law. He also says he has a right to assume that those departments will keep their promises.

For more information on Oklahoma's Department of Homeland Security visit their website, www.homelandsecurity.ok.gov.

Watch the video: Who's Keeping Track Of Homeland Security Monies In Oklahoma?

WEB EXTRA: Extended Interview With Oklahoma Homeland Security Director Kerry Pettingill

WEB EXTRA: Extended Interview With Kary Cox, Washington County Emergency Management
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