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Questions linger on stimulus spending at border

By: Rick Benedict//October 26, 2009//

Questions linger on stimulus spending at border

By: Rick Benedict//October 26, 2009//

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Eileen Sullivan
AP Writer

Washington — An inspector general’s review of stimulus spending by the Department of Homeland Security fails to resolve the controversy about how the Obama administration allocated the money for border projects.

According to the report, obtained by The Associated Press, the department generally had a good spending plan. But department officials told the inspector general not to review anything beyond its spending plan, including a decision-making process criticized as secretive and susceptible to political meddling. Officials said the department is doing its own internal review.

The plan includes $680 million for projects managed by the Customs and Border Protection agency, which is part of Homeland Security.

In August, the AP reported that the administration did not follow its own list of priorities in handing out $720 million to renovate border crossings; some $420 million came from Homeland Security money.

Despite Obama’s promises that the $787 billion stimulus plan would be transparent and free of politics, the department used a selection process for renovating border crossings that is secretive and vulnerable to political influence. This allowed low-priority projects such as small checkpoints along the country’s northern border to skip ahead of more pressing concerns at larger facilities on the southern border, according to documents revealed to the AP.

Despite the inspector general’s recent findings, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said he is concerned that these checkpoints, which have very little traffic compared with those on the southern border, are getting too much stimulus money.

Dorgan long has sought improvements at northern border checkpoints, including those in his home state.

He said he recently visited two of them.

“They’re small ports of entry with very light traffic, averaging about five vehicles an hour,” Dorgan said. “I’m more convinced than ever that they have to modify the spending.”

Facing criticism for her handling of federal stimulus money, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in September called for a 30-day review of the spending decisions and promised she would not start any new border construction projects until that review was complete. Department officials said they expect to announce the results of that review this week.

The department’s inspector general, Richard Skinner, told Dorgan on Friday that his office asked the department if it should include a review of these issues in its report. But Skinner said the department did not find that necessary because it is conducting its own review.

Homeland Security spokesman Sean Smith said the report shows that Customs and Border Protection “effectively and objectively” managed its stimulus projects. Smith also pointed to a section of the report that stated that the agency’s spending plans for all of its projects were generally “practical, thorough and comprehensive.”

Homeland Security officials have refused to release an internal priority list for renovating these checkpoints or justifications for deviating from the list. Officials said the final project list is all they need to make public.


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