Wyoming

Authorities in the state of Wyoming refused to turn over detailed records showing how federal homeland security grants have been used there since 2001. As with other states, we were seeking computer records containing individual grant transactions hoping to detect larger trends in how local beneficiaries have invested the money. Critics of anti-terrorism and emergency preparedness grants have frequently pointed to Wyoming as an example of how the formula used to distribute the funds during the years immediately following Sept. 11 was flawed. Wyoming benefited more per capita from the grants than other states. Former Vice President Dick Cheney represented Wyoming as a congressman, but beyond that, the Cowboy State, as it’s known unofficially, maintains a low profile and has just over half-a-million residents. A spokeswoman at Wyoming’s Office of Homeland Security nonetheless argued that specific grant spending information such as the type of public safety equipment purchased, price, quantity, purpose and more would not be made available citing exemptions in the state’s open-government laws that permit withholding records when disclosure “would be contrary to the public interest.” According to the law, that can include records describing “procedures designed to prevent or respond to terrorist attacks or other security threats.” The state did, however, supply us with budgetary documents that at least show how much individual Wyoming communities have received in grant funds during recent years. You can download them here. Wyoming officials in addition agreed to give up audits of the spending that states are required to carry out as part of their grant oversight responsibilities. Auditors hired by the state visit cities and counties to check on gear acquired with federal cash to make sure it’s being used properly and that documents verifying expenditures are all in place. Those records, which you can also download here, show that like other states, some grant recipients in Wyoming have struggled to adequately keep track of federally subsidized public safety gear and make sure purchases were put to good use. According to a 2008 report, the Riverton Police Department in western Wyoming’s Fremont County received over $18,000 for an incident-command trailer that wasn’t actually delivered until a year later. More than $4,400 worth of equipment purchased for the trailer was “not installed or in proper working order at the time of our site visit,” nine months after it was acquired, auditors found. The town of Ft. Laramie bought a surveillance system in early 2007, but eighteen months later half of the cameras purchased weren’t being used. Local officials told auditors they planned to install the devices after a new public building was completed. “However, as of the date of our visit, there were no firm plans regarding such construction,” auditors determined. Elsewhere, employees at a water treatment plant in Sheridan County were not trained on how to properly use chemical suits and air packs purchased months before. Plus, the air packs had not been filled, meaning they were “not functional” when auditors arrived. Police in Jackson, Wyo., the area where Cheney is known to keep a residence, bought five pieces of emergency communications equipment in March of 2007, but 15 months later auditors said they could only verify that one had been programmed and installed in a vehicle, and local authorities were unable to find another. Further, auditors could only examine seven more such devices out of 14 purchased in 2006 as part of a $40,000 investment, because “there was no documentation available showing where the items were located.” You can view other examples in the records posted here. The nation’s first homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge, in 2003 appointed a fire chief from Campbell County, Wyo., named Gary Scott to the Homeland Security Advisory Council, a panel of experts that makes recommendations to the federal government. Scott also participated in the former president’s reelection campaign as a member of the “Bush-Cheney ’04 First Responders Leadership Team,” a network of police, firefighters and paramedics that touted the White House’s record on homeland security. But a federal grand jury in 2007 accused Scott of having sex with four minor children, some of them involved in a fire cadet program he’d created. Other incidents allegedly occurred while Scott travelled to conferences with the victims. A judge later said there were “perhaps dozens of young men and women” actually victimized by Scott’s conduct, according to the Associated Press. Scott pled guilty in early 2008 to sex crimes that took place between 2000 and 2006, and he was sentenced to 24 years in prison. He also faced sexual assault and abuse charges in state court. An assistant U.S. attorney called it “one of the most serious cases I have ever prosecuted where death isn’t involved.” Before the scandal, the Tribune-Eagle newspaper quoted Scott arguing that the rest of the nation took Wyoming for granted as a potential focal point of extremists and defending its use of preparedness funding from the federal government. “We produce a third of the nation's energy out of (Campbell) county,” he said. “Our infrastructure is important to somebody.”

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