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Feds say Philly mishandled security grant for Dem convention

FILE - In this July 28, 2016, file photo, police officers line up near Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park in Philadelphia during the final day of the Democratic National Convention. The U.S. Department of Justice is criticizing how Philadelphia handled nearly a third of a $50 million grant for security during the July 2016 Democratic National Convention. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

A U.S. Department of Justice investigation released Thursday criticized how Philadelphia handled nearly a third of a $50 million grant for security during the July 2016 Democratic National Convention.

The agency’s inspector general issued a report that said the city did not perform adequate oversight for spending by police agencies, the host committee’s expenditures or fire department overtime. It also found that Philadelphia did not do enough to ensure accountability over spending and failed to comply with federal rules for requesting funds and reporting how the money is doled out.

“We found significant deficiencies in Philadelphia’s management of the grant funds, and overall, we identified over $14 million in unallowable or unsupported expenditures,” Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said .

Philadelphia spokesman Mike Dunn said the city should have done better and is making changes but added there was no implication of fraud, waste or abuse.

“We acknowledge that there was room for improvement in how the grant was administered — that we learned from those mistakes — and we’ve implemented procedures to make sure those issues are addressed,” Dunn said.

The inspector general’s office said it found “significant deficiencies” involving about $14.9 million of the federal grant.

A parallel review of Justice Department security grant spending at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland found it generally complied with federal rules, the one exception involving record keeping about $3.2 million worth of vehicles purchased with the money.

The Philadelphia report said overtime paid for the city’s fire department was not based on actual costs, but instead used a “weighed average,” making it difficult to assess whether some payments were valid. Auditors also found about $9,000 in duplicate costs.

“We found instances where PFD submitted overtime requests for reimbursement on days they were scheduled to work regular hours, and instances where duplicate overtime was included in PFD’s reimbursement worksheet,” the report said.

Dunn said the weighted average method was required “to compensate for the reporting limitations of the city’s legacy payroll system, which did not allow for distinguishing between overtime specific to DNC versus overtime for other reasons.”

The inspector general said the city did not have valid agreements with outside police agencies serving as mutual aid partners, and classified about $7.6 million as unsupported payments.

“We found mutual-aid partners submitted a range of items for reimbursement, including law enforcement officer overtime, fringe benefits, travel time, bus rental, equipment purchases, meals and lodging, despite Philadelphia’s memorandum only identifying reimbursement for personnel,” the report said.

Dunn said the city used “long-standing and proven” procedures for regional emergencies and major events.

The city also challenged how the report characterized the relationship between the convention host committee and the Democratic National Convention Committee, which the inspector general said may have created the appearance of improper political influence on how contracts were awarded.

Justice Department grants may not be used to “establish, administer, contribute to or pay for the expenses” of political parties or any group set up to influence elections.

“Some coordination between the city, host committee and the DNCC is necessary in order to host a national political convention,” Dunn said. “We look forward to working with the DOJ on these issues.”

The city has drawn down $41 million of the total grant. Its related spending was $46 million, so it has yet to collect the final $5 million, Dunn said. The city does not expect it will have to repay money to the Justice Department, he said.

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