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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

San Francisco, FEMA Differ on How $5 Million Anti-Terror Grant Ended Up in the Ground

Posted By on Tue, Jun 19, 2012 at 3:45 PM

click to enlarge It's broken! Where can we get some money to fix it?
  • It's broken! Where can we get some money to fix it?

Last month, the Chronicle published an eye-opening story alleging Muni squandered $37 million in anti-terror grants on cameras it largely wasn't using. Perhaps the most jarring allegation, however, is one that Muni quickly copped to -- it shunted $5 million in federal anti-terror money to rail repairs.

When asked how permission was obtained to put $5 million of anti-terror funding into the ground, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesman Paul Rose was paraphrased as stating "the feds" signed off on the deal. When asked by SF Weekly, however, which branch of the federal government approved this deal and what documentation exists, Rose said tha it's all uncertain at this time.

There are no Muni figures left who were involved in this deal, Rose says. Figuring what vestige of the federal government was asked by what vestige of Muni to shunt this money into rail repair will, like rail repair, require some digging.

Whatever answer Muni comes up with, however, may not assuage troubling new questions. E-mails from federal agencies indicate a different recollection of how $5 million in grant money was moved around than the storyline presented by Muni.

The ostensible goal of the Transit Security Grants Program (TSGP) is to "help protect critical surface transportation infrastructure and the traveling public from acts of terrorism." Funds for cameras, such as those provided to Muni, are typical.

When the federal government showers scores of millions of dollars upon a transit agency, is anyone responsible for keeping an eye out that the money is spent properly? According to the Transportation Security Administration, yes, someone is. But not the TSA.

"The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is responsible for the administrative and financial mechanisms needed to implement and manage the program, including monitoring grantee performance and appropriate use of grant funds after the funding is awarded to an agency like SFMTA," writes the TSA in an e-mail obtained by SF Weekly. 

It figures, then, that if Muni received permission to move anti-terror grant money into fixing the rails, it'd have to come from FEMA. But, according to FEMA, it did not.
"FEMA has a significant oversight program in place and monitors the use of TSGP funding closely," writes FEMA in a second e-mail. "SFMTA has not diverted or repurposed any TSGP funds from security projects to basic infrastructure improvements."

Considering Muni has been open about shunting anti-terror funds to rail repair, this response from FEMA is especially puzzling. Not only did Muni not receive FEMA's permission to divert the funds, per FEMA it hasn't diverted the funds -- even though it openly admits it did just that.

Assuming Muni did indeed receive federal permission to repurpose the funds, two possibilities arise: A. Someone at FEMA did sign off on using anti-terror funds to do backlogged maintenance -- and the agency is now denying it. Or, B. FEMA was oblivious about the fate of many millions of dollars of which it has "significant oversight."

In fact, per the Chronicle article, it already seems FEMA either accepted or was unaware of the negligible results of Muni's $37 million in federal grants for security cameras, many of which were purportedly gathering dust in warehouses.

What a predicament. Perhaps one of those stowed-away cameras could be of help in spotting the truth.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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