My review of the city's grant and the federal homeland security guidelines shows that the money used to buy the city police intelligence squad's GMC Yukon appears to have strict strings attached. It's specifically for protecting infrastructure from terrorists. (See video link in this Pittsburgh Channel story.)
The city's grant agreement to get the homeland security money makes it clear. The money used to buy the car that sometimes transported Mayor Ravenstahl was intended for the 'Buffer Zone Protection Program'. That means it's to be used to "protect and secure critical infrastructure and key resource sites across the country".
City officials signed a pledge that "The City of Pittsburgh agrees that all equipment received shall be used only for the purposes set forth".
Homeland security guidelines show examples of the suggested types of equipment and uses intended for the money. They include:
• biological, chemical, and radiation detection,
• explosives mitigation,
• and security systems.
The homeland security guidelines go a step further and spell out what it describes as "unallowable costs". It specifically says "unauthorized program expenditures.. include... general use vehicles".
The federal documents caution that the list of protected sites "will remain classified for security purposes". It makes no secret, however, that the intended use of the money is to "make it more difficult for terrorists to conduct surveillance or launch attacks".
[You can browse through the Program Guidelines and Application Kit here. I should caution you that it's a very large .pdf file.]
The homeland security department warns that:
• "it is the responsibility of the recipient to fully understand and comply with these requirements."
• "failure to comply may result in the withholding of funds, termination of the award, or other sanctions."
The city also agreed to provide federal and state agencies "the right to examine all records and documents that are related to BZPP equipment", and that "all equipment received is subject to audit by federal or state agencies". The city also agreed "to retain all cost-supporting records and documentation for a period of three years".
Public Safety Director Mike Huss responds that "the vehicle was part of the application and purchased by PEMA (the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency) [for the city]. They would not have purchased it if it were unallowable."
PEMA tells me that it's just a "channel" for the money. It also says that other policing assignments cannot share the car with the anti-terrorism effort, as Chief Harper has been suggesting.
I interviewed United States Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan Friday afternoon. She says:
• "Allegations of the mayor's alleged misuse of a vehicle have just come to the attention of my office. We're going to take a look at the purposes for the grant: what the specifications were, whether the purchase was an allowable purchase, and exactly what uses are permissible under the grant. Once We've had an opportunity to do that, we'll be in a much better position to determine whether there were any violations of the grant agreement."
• "There are a number of issues that my office could look at. We do play a role in coordinating homeland security functions within the region. ...The grants that have been made available to law enforcement and to municipalities around the country are very important and we must make every effort to make sure that these funds are being utilized properly. There are a number of issues that we're going to look at, and again it is premature to get into precisely what we'll do once we gather all the facts in this matter."
Friday, October 5, 2007