A Federal Emergency Management Agency watchdog said FEMA continued to improperly reimburse local law enforcement agencies for guarding presidential residences.
FEMA's Inspector General audit, finalized in late July, indicated that $19.1 million was granted to unallowable fringe benefits and ineligible protection activities for fiscal years 2019 and 2020 to multiple law enforcement agencies, with most of the unallowed expenses going to the New York Police Department.
Congress appropriated about $82 million in Presidential Residence Protection Assistance grants for the purpose of protecting President Donald Trump's residences from Oct. 1, 2018 through Sept. 30, 2020. These grants are given to local law enforcement agencies to assist the Secret Service in guarding presidential residences.
During the Trump administration, FEMA reimbursed local law enforcement agencies for protecting his residences in New York City; Bedminster, New Jersey; and Mar-a-Lago, Florida. In fiscal year 2019, $31.9 million was distributed to local agencies, and $35.8 million was awarded in 2020.
The New York Police Department, which helped protect Trump Tower, was given the majority of these funds, raking in a combined $57 million over two years.
The report indicated that $8.9 million in funds went toward unallowable overtime and fringe benefits. The Inspector General said some of the unallowed expenses included health insurance, vacation and holiday leave and personal leave. The report noted that FEMA recouped over $8.7 million from NYPD, leaving just $167,609 left.
Another $10.2 million went toward protection activities not directly associated with Trump's private residences. These expenses may have included protecting the president at sporting events or political rallies. For instance, NYPD was granted $3.8 million for protecting Trump when he attended a November 2019 UFC fight at Madison Square Garden.
The report notes that even though the Secret Service requested local law enforcement assistance, agencies are unable to seek reimbursement through Presidential Residence Protection Assistance grants.
Out of the $19 million in unallowed expenses, over $18 million went to the New York Police Department.
In response to the report, FEMA sent potential debt letters to law enforcement agencies outlining the $10.8 million in questioned costs. FEMA called on NYPD to pay back about $10 million.
"Without effective controls in place, FEMA may not be able to ensure PRPA grants are used for their intended purpose," the Inspector General wrote.
The Inspector General recommended FEMA implementing controls to "avoid reimbursing grantees for costs not directly associated with protecting designated non-governmental Presidential residences."
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