Friday, June 27, 2014

More Details on PSTA's Misuse of Federal Grant Money

PSTA keeps getting more black eyes. What PSTA is doing with our tax dollars does not pass the "smell" test of ethical fiscal responsibility.

Mike Deeson, reporter for Channel 10, reported Tuesday:

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is running "feel good ads" residents are paying for as part of a half-million dollar Department of Homeland Security grant to PSTA.
How does Brad Miller, CEO of PSTA, respond to Deeson's inquiry about this abusive use of our tax dollars?
PSTA Executive Director Brad Miller said, "It's about this general idea of making the transportation system feel more safe and secure."
No it's not.  Here are the commercials.  

According to the PSTA Board meeting packet of December 14, 2011 the Transit Security Grants were awarded to PSTA years ago:
Background DHS Grant Received – A year ago, PSTA was successful in receiving two Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants for security and emergency awareness marketing:

o Phase I ($96,000) – To develop a public awareness/education program that willincorporate the basics of the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA’s) existing“Transit Watch Program” which encourages transit patrons to alert authorities ifthey see anything suspicious. Approximately $12,000 of the grant is programmed for PSTA printing and material preparation costs and the remaining $84,000 is for consultant costs.

o Phase II ($439,500) – This phase develops and implements a mass media campaign to further promote public awareness of security issues related to public transportation and to enhance coordination with safety and security partners within the community (emphasis mine).
The Phase II money is what was used by PSTA to pay for these puff piece commercials that have nothing to do about promoting public safety when using transit. These ads are simply promoting transit and their Greenlight Pinellas plan.

The end of each ad conveniently refers viewers to go to the Greenlight Pinellas website to learn more. These commercials are not informing viewers how to protect against a terrorist attack or other disaster or even how to protect themselves when using transit infrastructure. It's to encourage voters to vote for Greenlight in November and for a sales tax increase that will benefit them.

At end of each commercial
Exactly when the transit security grants were awarded or how long the agency had to use the funds is not yet known. However, it is now years later when PSTA conveniently decides to use their Transit Security Grant money on commercials promoting Greenlight.

PSTA has refused to provide any specific information and documentation requested through our Public Records Request regarding the grants awarded by FEMA through the Department of Homeland Security. PSTA claims they are exempt from providing the public such information for security reasons, citing a section of the Freedom of Information Act. This was their response to a Public Records Request for information:
All documentation between PSTA and Department of Homeland Security/FEMA contain Sensitive Security Information and therefore are protected from disclosure pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 49 CFR Parts 15 and 1520.
FEMA has not indicated information regarding Transit Security Grants cannot be provided, though they can redact information.  For general information regarding the Transit Security Grant, FEMA directed me to their website.ain Content
The Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP) is one of five grant programs that constitute the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 focus on transportation infrastructure security activities. These grant programs are part of a comprehensive set of measures implemented by the Administration to help strengthen the Nation’s critical infrastructure against risks associated with potential terrorist attacks (emphasis mine). The TSGP is an important component of the Department’s effort to enhance the security of the Nation’s critical infrastructure. The program provides funds to owners and operators of transit systems (which include intracity bus, commuter bus, ferries, and all forms of passenger rail) to protect critical surface transportation infrastructure and the traveling public from acts of terrorism, major disasters, and other emergencies (emphasis mine).
An overview of the Transit Security Grant Program and information regarding program priorities and objectives can be found here.
Overview of Transit Security Grant Program

Transit Security Grants can fund these activities 

24 month performance period for Transit Security Grants
Is there appropriate oversight at the federal level for how these funds are spent? It not, why? Should FEMA, DHS or GAO Inspector Generals be investigating this misuse?

It appears the grant funds are supposed to be used within 24 months but PSTA was awarded these grants years ago. Did PSTA get an extension? If so, when and what was the reason for the extension?

When PSTA and it's CEO Brad Miller start to feel heat, they go on the defensive. Wednesday, June 25th, the day after Deeson's report, PSTA publishes this blog post Transit Safety and Security is Serious Business:
It is important to recognize that the message in the series of ads is public awareness of security issues related to public transportation.
Anyone watching the commercials knows that statement is absurd. Even those who know nothing about PSTA or the Greenlight referendum saw issues with using DHS grant money for these commercials. Blogger Dan Cadman posted in January here:
What I do know is that this is the kind of specious expenditure of taxpayer funds that makes people like me raise our eyebrows. 
At a time of fiscal austerity, and considering that not every locale deserving of counterterrorist funds gets anything at all, it seems unfair to me that monies provided by DHS should be spent in a fashion designed to generate revenues for PSTA.and here.
And Cadman posted in May here:
What is clear to me, however, is how completely inappropriate, perhaps bordering on the criminal, it is to use federal counterterrorism grant monies to attempt to sway voters on a county tax initiative, however discreetly it is done. I cannot imagine what PSTA officials can have been thinking if they believe that such a use of funds is anywhere within the bounds of acceptable or proper. Has anybody over there at PSTA got a moral compass?
It does not appear PSTA has a moral or ethical compass when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars. Why should they get more?

PSTA needs reform and new management not more tax dollars.
Vote NO on Greenlight Pinellas!
Vote No on Greenlight in November

No comments:

Post a Comment