Report Raises Questions about Massachusetts Terrorism Strategy
Business + Economy

Report Raises Questions about Massachusetts Terrorism Strategy

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

As the nation reels from the Patriot day terrorist attacks in Boston, which left three dead and more than one hundred injured, The Fiscal Times has found a report that raises questions about the federal government’s role in delaying security preparedness in Massachusetts.

The report--a February 2013 Department of Homeland Security audit of how Massachusetts spent $122 million in federal security preparedness grants--does not suggest that the out-of-date policies left Boston vulnerable to the kind of terror attack that occurred at the marathon. But at a time when U.S. vulnerabilities have been exposed, it paints a picture of state-federal terrorism coordination efforts fraught with bureaucratic pitfalls and delays.

The audit found that federal inaction caused the Commonwealth’s preparedness policies to be out of date and that the failure to update these policies was not Massachusetts’s fault. The DHS report puts the Commonwealth’s shortcomings squarely at the feet of the slow-moving and bureaucratic Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“These deficiencies existed in the Commonwealth because FEMA and [the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security] provided insufficient guidance and oversight for grant management,” the audit found. “As a result, the Commonwealth could not effectively measure and assess its capabilities and emergency preparedness.”

The Department of Homeland Security did not return calls for comment.

The audit found that Massachusetts did not have “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.” But again, the fault for this failure lies with FEMA, which had not “provided clear guidance to the Commonwealth on developing performance measures.”

According to the audit, Massachusetts had not updated its homeland security strategy since 2007, despite being required to update the policy bi-annually. 

“As a result, the Commonwealth may have spent [Homeland Security grants] funds on outdated risks, needs, goals, or objectives. Without current and defined goals and objectives, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts could not effectively measure progress toward improving its preparedness, prevention, response, and recovery capabilities.”

Here again, the audit places the blame for the Commonwealth’s failure to update this strategy with FEMA’s bureaucracy.

“According to FEMA officials, although the agency had approved the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ strategies, its approval meant only that it had received the strategies,” the audit found. “FEMA did not review the strategies to ensure that the objectives were measurable or that there were timeframes for completing them.”

The lack of an updated strategy also put Massachusetts at risk of spending federal money on contractors or programs that do not confront the most current challenges, the audit found.

In addition, the report found that Massachusetts lacks the mechanism to properly assess whether its anti-terrorism programs are meeting the goals necessary to support the Commonwealth’s homeland security strategy.

Of the $122 million in grants made from 2008 to 2011, the report found that Massachusetts needs to make improvements in the following areas:

  •  “Updating and improving the objectives in the State Homeland Security Strategy… and the [Urban Area Security Initiative] Homeland Security Strategy.”
  • “Establishing performance measures to assess overall Commonwealth capabilities and preparedness.”
  •  “Obligating grant funds to subgrantees within the required time period.”
  •  “Better monitoring of its Homeland Security Planning Regions to ensure compliance with procurement, property, and expenditure documentation requirements.”

The report also found that the state is not properly monitoring how federal money is being spent. It also found that different regions within the Commonwealth are failing to properly cooperate with one another.

The audit did not hold Massachusetts completely blameless for mismanagement of DHS grant funds. According to the report, $4-5 million in federal money was spent on questionable contracts.