Homeland Security:

Performance Measures and Comprehensive Funding Data Could Enhance Management of National Capital Region Preparedness Resources

GAO-13-116R: Published: Jan 25, 2013. Publicly Released: Jan 31, 2013.

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What GAO Found

FEMA's NCRC officials are not assisting regional officials in (1) developing performance measures to better assess the implementation of their strategic plan and (2) identifying federal funding available to prioritize preparedness investments. They are not doing so because they view their role as that of acting as a coordinator for other federal agencies, although they agreed that they could do more to support regional efforts and are positioned to do so. The NCR Strategic Plan helps regional officials identify the capabilities needed to strengthen the region's homeland security efforts and defines the framework for achieving those capabilities. NCR preparedness officials said that they have been working to develop preparedness measures since 2003, but noted that these measures are difficult to link to a measured improvement in regional preparedness. For example, while the region identified more than $25 million in UASI grant projects invested in providing public alerts and warnings, regional officials have not developed a measure to determine the effectiveness of these activities. Without such measures, it is unclear to what extent the efforts will advance the region's goals.

Also, FEMA officials have not yet addressed long-standing challenges to establishing a process for collecting comprehensive information on available federal preparedness funding related to homeland security and emergency management. Aside from UASI grant funding, regional officials do not have access to comprehensive information on all local, state, and federal funding sources; instead they collect this information on a project-by-project basis. These officials stated that awareness of all available homeland security and emergency management federal grant funding in the NCR could improve their management of resources.

FEMA's NCRC is in a position to assist regional officials in the NCR in (1) developing measures so that regional preparedness officials can better assess the implementation of the region's strategic plan and (2) collecting comprehensive information on federal preparedness grant funding in the region. Assisting regional officials in these two efforts would help NCR better prioritize funding. We are making recommendations to address these challenges.

Why GAO Did This Study

Given its political and historical significance as home to the most important institutions in the nation, protecting the National Capital Region (NCR) from both man-made incidents and natural disasters is of particular concern. Regional stakeholders at the local and state levels receive preparedness funding from a variety of federal grant programs, but the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant program is the primary source of federal homeland security funding for the NCR. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) allocated over $560 million through the UASI grant program to the NCR from fiscal years 2003 through 2012. However, the region's response to emergencies in 2011, including a significant snowstorm and an earthquake, as well as a severe storm in June 2012, raised questions regarding the effectiveness of regional preparedness capabilities.

The NCR is a geographic region that includes the District of Columbia and local jurisdictions in the State of Maryland and the Commonwealth of Virginia. A network of committees--composed of senior federal, state, and local officials and subject matter experts--works together to build the preparedness capabilities needed to implement the homeland security strategic plan for this region. A key federal stakeholder in this network is a federal office called the Office of National Capital Region Coordination (NCRC), established by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to oversee and coordinate federal programs for and relationships with state, local, and regional authorities in this region. In 2007, the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 (Post-Katrina Act), transferred NCRC into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA is responsible for coordinating national preparedness efforts in response to natural and man-made disasters.

Since May 2004, we have reported on long-standing challenges to emergency preparedness in the NCR--including the lack of performance measures to assess preparedness capability gaps as well as a reliable, central source of data on funds available. As we reported in May 2004, without these basic elements, it is difficult to assess preparedness capabilities, identify funding priorities for the region, and evaluate the use of all federal funds in a way that maximizes their effectiveness in improving the region's homeland security. As a result, we recommended that DHS through the NCRC, among other things, identify and address gaps in emergency preparedness and evaluate the effectiveness of expenditures by conducting assessments of preparedness capabilities in the NCR based on established standards and guidelines. DHS concurred with our recommendations. However, the NCRC's efforts to implement these recommendations have been unsuccessful. At the national level, we reported in March 2012 that FEMA continued to face challenges in managing preparedness grants and had made limited progress in managing preparedness grants and assessing capabilities to measure the use of federal assistance at the state and local levels, and assess how federal assistance programs are supporting national preparedness.

Establishing and measuring preparedness capabilities is essential to determining the impact of prior investments, identifying future needs, and prioritizing funding available from local, state, and federal funding sources. Without this information, decision makers at all levels cannot effectively answer three key questions of preparedness: How prepared do we need to be? How prepared are we? How do we prioritize efforts to close the gap?

Congress asked us to review the status of FEMA's efforts in the NCR to enhance capabilities to prepare for, protect from, and respond to major hazards. This report addresses the extent to which FEMA has assisted regional officials in establishing performance measures and identifying federal funding available to prioritize preparedness investments in the NCR.

What GAO Recommends

To address long-standing challenges that continue to hinder regional preparedness efforts in the NCR, we recommend that the FEMA Administrator require that the Director of NCRC take the following two actions:

  • assist regional officials in developing measures to better assess the implementation of the NCR’s strategic plan and
  • collect and maintain available information for NCR jurisdictions on DHS grant funding, and other federal grant funding that are relevant to homeland security and emergency management capabilities.

For more information, please contact Stephen Caldwell at (202) 512-8777 or caldwells@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: On April 1, 2013, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provided its written statement on actions taken regarding the recommendations contained in this report, pursuant to the requirements of 31 U.S.C. Section 720. In the letter, DHS stated that the National Capital Region Coordinating (NCRC) Office is working to develop a strengthened regional approach to address overall preparedness and performance management, citing two efforts underway in the NCR that will impact the development of performance measures. Specifically, DHS noted that Fiscal Year (FY) 13 Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant guidance from FEMA will likely mandate a new two-year grant cycle (versus the three-year cycle currently in place) and, as a result, grant expenditure and resource allocation will be reviewed with greater frequency and evaluated against enhanced performance metrics in order to continue to receive UASI grant funding; and (2) the NCRC, in its role as a member of the NCR Senior Policy Group, is revising the NCR Strategic Plan to develop additional performance measures. DHS estimated that this effort will be completed by September 30, 2014.

    Recommendation: To address long-standing challenges that continue to hinder regional preparedness efforts in the NCR, the FEMA Administrator should require that the Director of NCRC assist regional officials in developing measures to better assess the implementation of the NCR's strategic plan.

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

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: On April 1, 2013, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provided its written statement on actions taken regarding the recommendations contained in this report, pursuant to the requirements of 31 U.S.C. Section 720. In the letter, DHS stated that the National Capital Region Coordinating (NCRC) Office is working with the FEMA Grant Programs Directorate, FEMA National Preparedness Directorate, and FEMA Region III to advise FEMA leadership on how best to collect and analyze all federal grant information pertaining to the NCR. The NCRC is working with the Region to explore options to establish a timely reporting structure that involves state and local jurisdictions and federal partners in order to support a "ground-up" approach toward collecting grant data for analysis by FEMA. In addition, NCRC is collecting regional grant data from publically available sources such as Grants.gov and USASpending.gov. This initial collection will help to establish a baseline of data for all homeland security and preparedness grants currently available to the NCR and will inform FEMA's efforts for a formal collection. DHS estimated that this effort will be completed by March 30, 2014.

    Recommendation: To address long-standing challenges that continue to hinder regional preparedness efforts in the NCR, the FEMA Administrator should require that the Director of NCRC collect and maintain available information for NCR jurisdictions on DHS grant funding, and other federal grant funding that are relevant to homeland security and emergency management capabilities.

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

 

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