In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, lawmakers doled out the money quickly, with few restrictions and vague guidelines. Left to interpret needs on their own—and with little regional coordination—cash-strapped local and state officials plugged budget holes, spent millions on pet projects and steered contracts to political allies.
The District [of Columbia] funded a politically popular jobs program, outfitted police with leather jackets and assessed environmental problems on property prime for redevelopment. In Maryland, the money is buying Prince George's County prosecutors an office security system. In Virginia, a small volunteer fire department spent $350,000 on a custom-made fire boat. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments used some of the money for janitorial services.