Homeland Security:

Management of First Responder Grants in the National Capital Region Reflects the Need for Coordinated Planning and Performance Goals

GAO-04-433: Published: May 28, 2004. Publicly Released: Jun 24, 2004.

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Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the National Capital Region (NCR), comprising jurisdictions including the District of Columbia and surrounding jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia, has been recognized as a significant potential target for terrorism. GAO was asked to report on (1) what federal funds have been allocated to NCR jurisdictions for emergency preparedness; (2) what challenges exist within NCR to organizing and implementing efficient and effective regional preparedness programs; (3) what gaps, if any, remain in the emergency preparedness of NCR; and (4) what has been the role of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in NCR to date.

In fiscal years 2002 and 2003, grant programs administered by the Departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Justice awarded about $340 million to eight NCR jurisdictions to enhance emergency preparedness. Of this total, the Office for National Capital Region Coordination (ONCRC) targeted all of the $60.5 million Urban Area Security Initiative funds for projects designed to benefit NCR as a whole. However, there was no coordinated regionwide plan for spending the remaining funds (about $279.5 million). Local jurisdictions determined the spending priorities for these funds and reported using them for emergency communications and personal protective equipment and other purchases. NCR faces several challenges in organizing and implementing efficient and effective regional preparedness programs, including the lack of a coordinated strategic plan for enhancing NCR preparedness, performance standards, and a reliable, central source of data on funds available and the purposes for which they were spent. Without these basic elements, it is difficult to assess first responder capacities, identify first responder funding priorities for NCR, and evaluate the effectiveness of the use of federal funds in enhancing first responder capacities and preparedness in a way that maximizes their effectiveness in improving homeland security.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help ensure that emergency preparedness grants and associated funds are managed in a way that maximizes their effectiveness, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should work with the NCR jurisdictions to develop a coordinated strategic plan to establish goals and priorities for enhancing first responder capacities that can be used to guide the use of federal emergency preparedness funds.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2004, GAO recommended that the National Capital Region (NCR) develop a strategic plan to establish and monitor the achievement of regional goals and priorities for emergency preparedness and response. In September 2006, the NCR approved a strategic plan that included all six characteristics GAO considers desirable for a regional homeland security strategy. The plan included regional priorities and presented the rationale for the goals and related objectives and initiatives, which could be used to guide the use of federal emergency preparedness funds. This included information on how the plan addresses national priorities and targeted capabilities from the National Preparedness Goal, an Emergency Management Accreditation Program assessment of local and regional preparedness and emergency management capabilities against recognized national standards, and DHS's Nationwide Plan Review of emergency plans. The plan structure was more streamlined, containing an overview, core plan, and detailed appendix with information on factors such as risks, costs, and roles and responsibilities.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that emergency preparedness grants and associated funds are managed in a way that maximizes their effectiveness, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should monitor the plan's implementation to ensure that funds are used in a way that promotes effective expenditures that are not unnecessarily duplicative.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DHS did not implemented this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that emergency preparedness grants and associated funds are managed in a way that maximizes their effectiveness, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should identify and address gaps in emergency preparedness and evaluate the effectiveness of expenditures in meeting those needs by adapting standards and preparedness guidelines based on likely scenarios for NCR and conducting assessments based on them.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DHS has not implemented this recommendation. While DHS has made progress in identifying and addressing gaps in emergency preparedness and evaluated the effectiveness of expenditures in meeting those needs by adapting standards and preparedness guidelines for emergency preparedness overall, it has not specifically addressed the National Capital Region.

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