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Los Angeles misses out on stimulus grants

Controller Wendy Greuel finds that the lack of oversight cost the city more than $125 million. She proposes a centralized body to pursue specific funding.

January 24, 2012|By Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times

The city of Los Angeles lost out on more than $125 million in federal stimulus money because of a lack of oversight across the various departments pursuing the funds, City Controller Wendy Greuel said Monday.

In an audit of the city's application processes for competitive grants from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Greuel found that the lack of a centralized body to oversee the city's scattered departments led to a series of oversights that reduced the city's share of the billions in funding awarded across the country.

The city applied for 88 competitive grants worth about $1.3 billion under the federal stimulus measure. Of those, the city was awarded 24 grants totaling $261 million, the audit found. Greuel said the city failed to pursue all funding that it was eligible to receive.

Among other reasons, various departments contended that the grants were not pursued because of a lack of staffing resulting from furloughs and early retirements along with decisions by some officials to pursue only the grants that they felt they had the best chance of winning, the audit found.

In a severe budget crisis, it is crucial that the city pursue any possible source of funding, Greuel said.

"The city must not leave opportunities and cash on the table," she said. "It is reckless to do so."

Because there are no formal, citywide guidelines on application processes, the quality of the grant applications varied among departments, Greuel said. Although some departments have formal guidelines and manuals for grant applications, others rely on a few employees to navigate the often complex application processes on top of their other duties.

Among those without guidelines are the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles Fire Department and the city attorney's office, Greuel said.

In one instance, Los Angeles World Airports, the city's airport agency, received $10.8 million from the Department of Transportation for the relocation of a fire station at L.A. International Airport.

The funding program, which included $1.1 billion available nationwide for airport improvements, could be used for a variety of projects, and applicants could apply in more than one category.

The agency, however, applied in only one category. The audit found that officials chose to focus solely on the category in which they felt the city could win and did not pursue any others, although they were eligible.

Greuel has discussed the implementation of an oversight body with City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, who supports the idea.

Santana said that mere eligibility for a grant does not make it the right fit. Some require the city to make contributions or to provide certain services that are hard to manage in difficult economic times.

"Having a central body to look at grants will make sure that we are pursuing those that support the work of the city, instead of going for dollars just for the sake of going for dollars," Santana said.

Greuel also criticized the pace at which the cash-strapped city has accepted and received grant funding. Typically, the process takes between five and six weeks. But most American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants were not accepted by the City Council until months after they were awarded, the audit found.

In addition to establishing citywide guidelines and an oversight body, Greuel recommended that the city provide support to departments to ensure quality applications and require departments to seek and document reasons for grant denials.

"We need to have a focused attention, a focused process that is going to guarantee that we get those dollars on the street as quickly as possible," she said.

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

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