Homeland Security: Potential for "double-dipping" has attracted the attention of Gov. Jon Corzine's administration

Thursday, September 14, 2006
Jersey Journal

Jack Burns, Hudson County's coordinator of the Office of Emergency Management, has a better handle than most on what resources the county has at its disposal to confront a major disaster.

But even Burns, a plain-spoken former Jersey City firefighter, has to admit that perhaps 20 percent or more of the emergency management funding that flows into the county escapes his attention. He says it's not his fault.

Virtually all of the homeland security and emergency management funding that comes into the county originates with the federal government. But it flows into the county via three different streams.

One avenue leads from the state to the county, and another, from the state to a regional committee. These two pools of money Burns has a firm grip on, and they represent roughly $6 million since 2003.

But there's a third funding stream - municipal agencies, particularly police, fire and health departments can still apply for and receive grants directly from the federal government, and they aren't obligated to report to the county or the state just what they're awarded.

"Through the state Attorney General's Office we've made a big (gripe) about not knowing if other communities are double-dipping," Burns said. "We'll all of a sudden find out a town picked up a response vehicle and we didn't have a clue.

"We don't want to be funding something twice," Burns added. "Every municipality has been a transgressor."

Burns - who leads a 14-member committee that disperses grants in the county and sits on a regional board that makes similar decisions - was reluctant to offer specific examples of towns that have been out to cheat the system.

But examples of homeland security-type grants municipalities have received outside of the state-county loop aren't hard to find.

Three years ago, Jersey City received a $10.7 million federal Department of Justice grant to build a new communications system for its police, fire and emergency service workers.

Meanwhile, Hoboken received a $500,000 federal grant to upgrade the inter-operability of radio and police radios, a spokesman said.

This creates the potential for "double-dipping" - agencies applying to the state and to the federal government to fund the same project - and that has attracted the attention of Gov. Jon Corzine's administration.

Earlier this year, the newly created state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness named Randy Richardson its grants coordinator, and one of his main charges is to eliminate the potential for double-dipping, said Roger Shatzkin, spokesman for the agency.

"The concern is to make sure we're covering all our bases and to make sure there isn't unnecessary duplication," Shatzkin said. "If a fire company has gotten something through a direct fire grant, we want the county working group to be aware of that."

The system is getting better, Shatzkin said. For example, the federal government now passes along applications for its Commercial Equipment Direct Assistance Program - which awards money for radios, protective gear, chemical detection sensors, and other equipment - to the state. The state forwards this information to the county so those municipalities can't receive funding for the same items, he said.

"We are getting tighter," Shatzkin added. "It is trying to get our dollars go as far as we can."

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