Responding to the release of a Homeland Security Inspector General (IG) investigation report into Cook County's $45 million Project Shield initiative, U.S. Senator Mark Kirk today called for a federal criminal probe into the failed program.
Project Shield was intended to provide 128 municipalities with two vehicles capable of mobile data transmission, a WiFi hotspot and a tower camera. But the IG reported that 32 communities received nothing, while others installed cameras simply overlooking police parking lots or headquarters lobbies - many times already covered by existing cameras. In an IG audit, staff found 18% of decommissioned equipment missing.
In 2009, then-Congressman Kirk and Rep. Mike Quigley wrote a bipartisan letter to the Inspector General's office requesting a review of Project Shield following media reports of waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars within the program. The results of that IG report were released today.
Page seven of the Inspector General's report highlights:
* "...missing records, improper procurement practices, unallowable costs and unaccountable inventory items."
* "...$7 million in maintenance costs for 6 years, even though maintenance costs were not allowed for prior grant year acquisitions until 2010."
* "...unable to obtain documentation for 168 change orders with some changes amounting to as much as $413,455."
* "Sampling of decommissioned equipment from Phases 1 and 2 revealed that 18% of the items were missing from the inventory."
Given the results of the IG's report and apparent program corruption, today Sen. Kirk and Rep. Quigley co-authored a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation formally requesting a criminal probe into the missing records, equipment and money from Project Shield. The program's first prime contractor won Phase 2 of Project Shield with no competition. Cook County finally cancelled this contractor after payment of over $20 million.
The IG cited failures by FEMA (during the Bush and Obama Administrations), lack of oversight by the State of Illinois (during the Blagojevich and Quinn Administrations) and numerous management, oversight and accountability problems by Cook County (during the Presidencies of John and Todd Stroger).
The full text of the letter can be read below.
January 9, 2012
Mr. Robert D. Grant
Special Agent in Charge
Federal Bureau of Investigation
2111 W. Roosevelt Road
Chicago, IL 60608
Dear Special Agent in Charge Grant,
We write to you regarding a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Inspector General report raising serious questions about the implementation of Cook County's "Project Shield" initiative. As you may know, Project Shield was a $45-million federally-funded County program to install video and data sharing equipment in first responder vehicles. The Inspector General's findings confirm numerous media reports of waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars. According to the report, Project Shield "...was not implemented effectively, and millions of tax dollars may have been wasted on equipment that does not perform as intended." Of particular concern is potentially criminal misuse of federal taxpayer dollars.
The Inspector General found that Cook County, the State of Illinois, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Urban Area Working Group did not plan effectively, nor did the organizations provide proper oversight of the program. Cook County in particular was found to be in violation of procurement, property and record requirements.
The Inspector General "found missing records, improper procurement practices, unallowable costs, and unaccountable inventory items." Among the issues raised were a non-competitive $11.3 million contract for Phase 2 work, $7 million in prohibited maintenance costs, and significant contract changes without approval. Expenditures were not adequately verified or authorized, which was attributed to "Cook County's inadequate management of the project, as well as the ineffective monitoring by FEMA and the State of Illinois."
These findings warrant further investigation into the potential criminal misuse of federal funds. Last June, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle canceled the program, which was created and implemented by Presidents John Stroger and Todd Stroger. This step is in line with Inspector General recommendations, but more must be done to ensure federal and local accountability. We have enclosed the full Inspector General report for your review.
Should you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact our offices.
Mark Kirk Mike Quigley
U.S. Senator Member of Congress