In 2003, the FBI spent $25 million to give bomb squads across the nation state-of-the-art computer kits, enabling them to share information instantly about suspected explosives, including weapons of mass destruction. Now, says the Washington Post, half the capital area’s squads can’t communicate via the $12,000 kits, meant to be taken to the scene of potential catastrophes, because they didn’t pick up the monthly wireless bills and maintenance costs initially paid by the FBI. Other squads across the U.S. have given up using them. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Washington area has got than $1 billion in federal money to strengthen first responders. The money has bought satellite phones, radios, protective suits, water-security monitors and other items.
Local officials are grappling with how to maintain the huge infusion of equipment. Local governments are facing hefty bills to keep their gear working. Officials recently set aside nearly one-fifth of the area’s latest federal homeland security grant — about $12 million — to cover maintenance over the next two years. The shopping list includes $120,000 in new batteries for emergency radios; $400,000 to maintain chemical and radiation monitors for rivers; and $250,000 in replacement equipment for top officials’ videoconferencing system. In some cases, officials are slowing homeland security projects while the question of upkeep is worked out. This year the region asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for $13 million to build a broadband wireless network for emergency workers. In the end, officials decided to spend just $1 million — on plans that will determine the maintenance costs. Michael Chertoff, homeland security secretary, warned cities recently that the grants were not like Social Security checks that would arrive year after year.