Fire Grants:

FEMA Could Enhance Program Administration and Performance Assessment

GAO-16-744: Published: Sep 15, 2016. Publicly Released: Sep 15, 2016.

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What GAO Found

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Grant Programs Directorate (GPD) revised fire grant policies for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG), Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER), and Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) grant programs in response to the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2012 (FGRA). GPD incorporated a majority of these changes into its existing application and award processes. For example, FGRA established minimum award allocations for three types of fire departments. In 2013 and 2014, each of these types of departments received more than the minimum of fire grant funds. FEMA also developed a performance assessment system for the AFG and SAFER programs in response to FGRA. The figure summarizes the types of uses for each fire grant program.

Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Fire Grant Programs

Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Fire Grant Programs

FEMA has several opportunities to enhance its administration of fire grants and how their contributions to national preparedness are assessed. For example, while FEMA developed performance measures for the AFG and SAFER programs, the agency did not include measurable performance targets linked to AFG and SAFER program goals that could help better assess the impact of the program and report program achievements. Establishing measurable performance targets linked to program goals could enhance the quality and utility of the new performance assessment system by providing a yardstick against which these investments can be evaluated. In addition, the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) provides firefighter training and education as well as fire-related research, data collection, and analysis, and acts as a consultant for GPD's fire grant programs, but FEMA has not defined and documented USFA's specific role or responsibilities with the fire grants program. As a result, there is no formalized relationship or policy regarding, for example, how the two organizations' programs could work together to achieve common goals. Using collaborative mechanisms GAO's work has identified across the federal government could help GPD better leverage USFA's expertise and resources to support programmatic management of the fire grants programs. Both GPD and USFA officials agreed that defining and documenting the roles and responsibilities of GPD and USFA would enhance the administration of the fire grants programs.

Why GAO Did This Study

Public fire departments in the U.S. responded to almost 1.3 million fires occurred in the United States in 2014, which resulted in more than 3,275 civilian deaths, 15,775 injuries, and $11.6 billion in property loss. To help support local firefighting efforts, FEMA, within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), allocated almost $5.8 billion from 2009 to 2016 to award grants to fire departments and other organizations for equipment, staffing, research, and other needs.

The Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2012 (FGRA), which amended and reauthorized the three grant programs, includes a provision for GAO to review changes to the grant programs and FEMA's assessment of the fire grants' performance. This report examines (1) the extent to which the fire grants' policies and performance assessments changed as a result of FEMA's implementation of FGRA, and (2) what additional opportunities exist to enhance FEMA's management of fire grant processes and performance assessment efforts. GAO reviewed FGRA and FEMA grant policy documents, and interviewed FEMA officials and relevant stakeholders who provided insights on key actions taken.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making four recommendations, including that FEMA establish measurable performance targets, and define and document the roles and responsibilities of GPD and USFA in administering the fire grants. DHS concurred with all four recommendations, and described planned actions to address them.

For more information, contact Chris Currie at (202) 512-8777 or CurrieC@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: According to officials, FEMA's Grant Programs Directorate is reviewing the current set of program metrics to determine the feasibility of establishing performance targets. FEMA plans to include approved targets in its annual report to Congress that will be issued for fiscal year 2016; the report was undergoing internal review for approval and release as of November 2016. Pending issuance of the report with measurable performance targets linked to AFG and SAFER program goals, this recommendation will remain open.

    Recommendation: To better assess the impact of the fire grants program, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the FEMA Administrator to establish measurable performance targets linked to AFG and SAFER program goals, such as the desired percentage of awardees who used grants to achieve compliance with equipment standards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: According to officials, FEMA's Grant Programs Directorate plans to incorporate the National Preparedness Goal definition of national critical infrastructure into fire grant performance measures in FEMA's fiscal year 2017 Annual Report to Congress. Specifically, they said FEMA plans to conduct an assessment of data from AFG program application and awards in order to verify recipients are reporting infrastructure that aligns with the National Preparedness Goal definition of critical infrastructure. In addition, FEMA plans to meet as needed with the National Programs and Protection Directorate's Office of Critical Infrastructure Analysis to determine how the Critical Infrastructure Prioritization Program list can be used in the application process. Pending completion of these efforts, this recommendation will remain open.

    Recommendation: To enhance FEMA's efforts to assess and integrate the fire grant programs' contributions to national preparedness, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the FEMA Administrator to use the National Preparedness Goal's definition of critical infrastructure as the basis of collecting information from applicants and using the National Critical Infrastructure Prioritization Program list to measure fire grant programs' performance in addressing national priorities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: According to officials, FEMA's Grant Programs Directorate intends to develop a plan to assess the data collected to determine feasibility for integration of NFORS and FireCARES data into the AFG programs. The plan will incorporate ways to improve the applications, awards processes, and tracking of performance. This plan should be completed by March 2017, and FEMA will continue to collaborate with stakeholders for the improvement of the AFG application, awards processes, and performance management. According to FEMA, the estimated completion of this effort is September 2017.

    Recommendation: To enhance FEMA's efforts to incorporate new National Fire Operations Reporting System (NFORS) and Fire Community Assessment Response Evaluation System (FireCARES) data elements into fire grants program management activities, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the FEMA Administrator to develop a project management plan for identifying relevant data elements in the new NFORS and FireCARES systems and determining how they can be used to improve fire grant applications and awards processes and the performance assessment system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FEMA's Grant Programs Directory (GPD) and FEMA's U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) have prepared a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and are coordinating to improve joint management of the AFG suite of grant programs. This MOU was finalized on December 1, 2016. The MOU assigns roles and responsibilities for coordination of their separately legislated responsibilities to (a) maximize FEMA's service to the Fire and Fire Based Emergency Management Services, and (b) prevent programmatic inconsistencies and conflicts. The MOU will guide programmatic optimization for management of the AFG suite of programs with special emphasis on the Fire Prevention and Safety Grants where the greatest opportunities exist for enhanced coordination.

    Recommendation: To further leverage the expertise and resources in support of FEMA's fire grants programs, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the FEMA Administrator to define and document the roles and responsibilities of USFA in administering the fire grant programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

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