`Fire departments are using Homeland Security grants to buy gym equipment, sponsor puppet and clown shows, and turn first responders into fitness trainers.
The spending choices are allowable under the guidelines of the Assistance to Firefighters grant administered by the Homeland Security Department, which has awarded nearly 250 grants since February totaling more than $25 million out of the current spending pot of $545 million.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff vowed to redirect grant spending based on risk of a terrorist attack, but Congress has ignored his pleas, federal officials say.
“The administration has not supported the funding for physical fitness equipment as part of the fire grant program,” says Marc Short, Homeland Security spokesman. “Physical fitness is an individual responsibility.”
The Bush administration has specifically asked Congress not to allow funding for physical fitness, but the members who run Congress’ appropriation committees keep inserting the language into the department’s budget, officials say.’