Before bombings, feds questioned Massachusetts security plan

 

McClatchy Newspapers

A February report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General is sure to raise questions in the weeks ahead about how Massachusetts spent federal grant money to protect the state and better evaluate terror threats.

The state was revamping its security plans with federal authorities when this week’s deadly blasts hit.

There’s no initial evidence that the shortcomings listed in the 50-page report played a role in Monday’s deadly blasts in Boston. But the February document raised troubling concerns about the lack of performance measures adopted in Massachusetts and about insufficient federal guidance.

The inspector general’s office declined to comment on the report Tuesday, other than to note that the state had until May 28 to present a corrective action plan.

The office examined how Massachusetts spent roughly $122 million in federal grant money between fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2011. In most instances, said the report, Massachusetts distributed and spent the money as required by law.

“However, the Commonwealth needs to update and improve its Homeland Security Strategies, develop a performance measurement system to assess preparedness, obligate grant funds within required time limits and strengthen onsite monitoring of subgrantees,” the inspector general’s report said, noting that the state exceeded management and administrative costs by more than $4 million.

That question of preparedness is likely to be examined in great detail by both federal and state officials once more is known about who planted the two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, why they did so and how. As of late Tuesday afternoon, authorities had announced no suspects nor said whether their investigation indicated a domestic or an international terror link.

The February report offered 11 specific recommendations to the state, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency concurred with eight of the suggestions, taking issue with just three of the DHS recommendations, involving the recovery of federal funds. Massachusetts responded initially that it lacked sufficient guidance from federal agencies, particularly FEMA.

One of the most charged complaints involved insufficient performance measures adopted by both the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security and Boston officials administering grant funds under the Urban Areas Security Initiative. The report said that the state and Boston lacked “sufficient performance measures to use in determining their ability to deter, prevent, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism and natural and manmade disasters.” It also said that “FEMA has not provided clear guidance” to states about developing their own performance measures.

In response to questions from McClatchy, Terrel Harris, a spokesman for the state security and safety office, said the state was in the midst of making changes when the attacks happened Monday.

“Massachusetts recognized the need to revise our State Homeland Security Strategy in early 2012 and have been engaged in a process that will lead to an updated strategy. However, we made a decision to hold off updating the State Strategy until we received the new federal guidance,” Harris said in an email.

“This included FEMA’s emerging strategic vision and new Threat Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) requirement. We believed that the THIRA should be the foundation of our updated Strategy. (Massachusetts), therefore, conducted a comprehensive assessment for its Threat Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA). This was submitted to FEMA in Jan 2013 and it will be used as the basis for our updated State Strategy.”

The state’s procurement policies also were faulted in the inspector general’s report. It cited eight instances where federal or state procurement policies were skirted, including the purchase of 16 all-terrain vehicles for more than $100,000 without a competitive bid. And in an area that might soon be scrutinized, an Urban Areas grant was used to contract intelligence analyst support, but the contract included neither a scope of work nor costs for these services, the report charged. These were only added a year after the contract was signed, the inspector general’s office said.

In a Jan. 16 response to a draft of the report, the top safety official in Massachusetts acknowledged that some recommendations would be implemented but added that the federal government shares blame.

“It is our hope that by conducting this and other state audits, the DHS (Office of Inspector General) gains an in-depth understanding of the realities of implementing this highly regulated and complex grant program, which differs from many other federal grant programs in that it entails initiating entirely new operating methodologies and programs; buying, installing and effectively utilizing sophisticated equipment and infrastructure; and continuously coordinating with a wide range of stakeholders to achieve myriad programmatic outcomes,” wrote Ellen Frank, executive director of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

State officials agreed that a more detailed performance evaluation plan was preferable but countered that Massachusetts had adopted 33 specific implementation steps and was achieving progress.

The office of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., did not respond to a request for comment. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., who sits on the House Subcommittee on National Security, also had no immediate comment.

Email: khall@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @KevinGHall

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