Two years ago, on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, my colleagues Karisa King and Scott Stroud wrote a story that went beyond the platitudes of politicians and pundits. Karisa and Scott checked to see if Texas was actually safer after receiving more than a billion dollars in Homeland Security grant money:
Texas has spent more than $1.4 billion in homeland security money on an effort that was supposed to make people safer, but the program has devolved into a massive spending spree undertaken with inadequate planning, coordination or accountability.
The problem is apparently persisting in California, where a new nonprofit organization of investigative reporters called California Watch reviewed stacks of state audits that tracked how grant money has been spent:
Under the state’s open-records laws, California Watch found scores of instances of wasteful spending, purchasing violations, error-prone accounting and shoddy oversight at agencies across the state during the years immediately following 9/11.
California Watch, a new unit started by the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting, examined thousands of pages of documents from 160 monitoring reports written by state homeland security officials who visited cities and counties across California to inspect equipment and grant records for compliance with federal guidelines.
California Watch is the latest nonprofit group geared towards investigative journalism. Similar nonprofit models, such as Texas Watchdog and the Texas Tribune, are attempting to fill the vacuum left by gutted newsrooms across the country.
Investigating whether public officials are actually doing a good job keeping people safe is important work — no matter who’s doing it.