For three days in Howard County last year, 29 veterinarians from Maryland and around the nation honed their homeland-security skills by practicing the rescue of a tame llama named Dexter and his sidekick, Karma, a Tennessee walking horse.
Clad in matching blue coveralls and hardhats, vets from as far away as
Minnesota and Missouri surrounded Dexter and hooked him to a harness hitched
to a backhoe, then pretended to save the docile beast by gently hoisting him
off a manicured lawn in Lisbon. Then, they ministered to Karma, who had
stretched out on command in the nearby woods as if his leg were broken.
Money to pay for this "large-animal rescue" drill came from federal
homeland security grants to the state. The exotic expenditure cost taxpayers
$17,234, including airfare, meals and lodging for many of the visiting
veterinarians and an honorarium for the animals' performance.
"If it was a state fair where there were several hundred animals and the
barn was bombed ... and we needed assistance beyond the number of
veterinarians in the state of Maryland, we would try to get them wherever we
could," said Dr. Jacob Casper, coordinator of disaster services for the state
Department of Agriculture, in defense of the exercise.
A Sun review of nearly 10,000 pages of state homeland security documents
shows that most of the new federal terrorism preparedness money managed by the
Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) - $161 million has been allotted
since 2002 - is being directed toward the critical needs of first responders.
But records and interviews also show that Maryland is so flush with
anti-terrorism grant funds and spending authority is so broad that the state
has struggled, at times, to manage the money. In some cases - such as the
llama roundup - spending appears to stretch the definition of homeland
"Does it pass the common sense test?" James Jay Carafano, a homeland
security analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, asked of the
large-animal rescue. "Does it make the nation safer as a whole? I don't think
The new money flowing from the federal government has increased MEMA's
annual grant responsibilities 20-fold, from about $2.8 million before 9/11 to
$60 million in 2004. The bulk of the funds have gone to outfitting emergency
crews with such state-of-the-art security staples as mobile command centers,
800-megahertz radios and HAZMAT trucks. But as early as 2003, MEMA became
overwhelmed by the volume of purchases and stopped keeping itemized
spreadsheets of spending by the state's 27 jurisdictions, a mix of cities,
counties and MEMA, said Gary Harrity, the state anti-terrorism coordinator for
"Keeping track of who was buying what was my biggest downfall," said
Harrity, an accountant. "Like if you wanted to know how many trucks have been
bought in the state, right now I couldn't tell you. ... I'd have to pull each
Until last month, when 1 1/2 positions were added, MEMA had a crew of only
two tracking homeland security receipts and purchases and checking them
against grant rules.
MEMA Director John W. Droneburg III said staff additions had long been
planned, but state hiring freezes, uncertain funding and the normal drag of
bureaucracy delayed the process.
"It's just the way state government moves - slowly," he said.
Until a $380,000 computerized grant management system is installed in 2007,
MEMA will have to keep tallying purchases by phoning the jurisdictions or by
No federal audits have been conducted on Maryland's books. The only outside
examination has been by two investigators from the House Appropriations
Committee who did a "spot inquiry" last summer, a one-day check of the books,
according to MEMA and one of the investigators, John N. Phillips.
Phillips declined to discuss the investigation, but MEMA spokesman Jeff
Welsh said the state was not told of any problems or irregularities.
Between 2002 and 2004, the state was allotted more than $115 million from
the major homeland security grant programs, but because of loose federal
deadlines for reimbursement, it has only submitted receipts to Washington for
a third, or $35 million. This year, Washington promised Maryland another $45.4
million in terrorism- preparedness grants.
All told, MEMA has managed about $161 million in homeland security grants
since 9/11. And Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced last week that Maryland
is receiving an additional $489,000 in bioterrorism preparedness funds from
the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Baltimore City will
receive the most - $200,000 - with the rest being divided among 11 Maryland
"You can go through $160 million or $170 million and make judgments about
individual expenditures," Droneburg said. "We can all do that and come up with
our own opinions. But we're just now getting organized and are able to take
individual projects ... and pull the pieces together for prevention and
interoperability and protecting our infrastructure."
He said statewide standardization of emergency communications - or
interoperability - remains the core focus of Maryland's homeland security.
More than $307,000 in grant money was spent last year on interoperability
consulting, and $9 million will be spent this year on the infrastructure -
communication towers, fiber-optic cables and the like - that allows first
responders to talk on the same frequency. Any supplementary spending is
relatively minor, Droneburg said.
Chasing security with dollars
Overflowing with Department of Homeland Security anti-terrorism money, and with broad authority to spend, the state has had trouble managing the cash.
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