Ritter creates homeland security office
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER ” Gov. Bill Ritter created a new Office of Homeland Security and made the director part of his cabinet on Monday, saying it would reduce “fragmentation” in Colorado’s efforts to prepare and respond to potential terrorist threats and natural disasters.
Ritter appointed retired Colorado National Guard Maj. Gen. Mason Whitney to lead the office of 14 people, who will be paid a total of about $1 million a year using money from the state’s federal homeland security grants. Whitney will report directly to Ritter like the other 19 members of his cabinet.
Twelve of the 14 people in the new office, including Whitney, already work for the state in different departments and will be brought under Whitney’s direction. Ritter hired Whitney and former state auditor Joanne Hill in August to examine Colorado’s homeland security operations and make recommendations to improve them following several critical audits. Three more employees have been hired since last year to apply for federal grants so there are now a total of five that will work in the new office.
Ritter said the new office will give “greater focus, greater coordination and greater oversight” and stressed that he wasn’t creating a new bureaucracy before signing two executive orders creating the office and appointing Whitney.
“I’m looking forward to working together as one team and to make Colorado safer as a result of our efforts,” said Whitney, who retired from the military in April.
In December, a federal audit found that Colorado failed to tightly monitor how they spent more than $156 million in grants from 2003 to 2006 and found that $7.8 million were misspent. It also found that local security officials failed to meet on a routine basis but Ritter said they are now having quarterly planning meetings.
Whitney said that Hill’s review of the books showed that all but about $152,000 of the $7.8 million in spending can be justified and the state sent federal officials an explanation last week of why they shouldn’t have to repay the remaining $7.6 million.
Of the $7.6 million, Hill said about half, $3.5 million, was spent by local governments the year after a grant was made, which she said was common as many agencies were trying to buy similar equipment in the years immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Whitney said delayed spending wasn’t allowed under those six homeland security grants but it had been allowed under others. He said Colorado is asking not to have to repay that $3.5 million because the rules weren’t clear.
Another $3.9 million was spent on a key piece of equipment for the state’s radio network in Jefferson County that was later transfered to a consortium of governments. Hill said the ownership and responsibility for the equipment wasn’t legally transfered as it should have been but said the spending was in line with federal homeland security rules.
“We have a strong position that everything was spent on eligible items,” Hill told lawmakers during a briefing later.
The $152,000 that the state isn’t contesting included $135,000 the Denver Fire Department spent on a telecommunications room and about $17,000 earned in interest on grant money deposited in the bank until the bill for the equipment and projects were paid. That money will have to be repaid.
Despite being able to justify much of the spending, Hill said she still thinks the new office. She said Colorado needs to strategize and coordinate the efforts of different agencies and governments in addition to just making sure grant money is spent according to the rules.
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