Key Issues > Duplication & Cost Savings > GAO's Action Tracker > Homeland Security Grants (2012-17)
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Homeland Security/Law Enforcement: Homeland Security Grants (2012-17)

The Department of Homeland Security needs better project information and coordination among four overlapping grant programs and needs to establish a framework for assessing preparedness capabilities to identify gaps and prioritize investments.

Action:

To help reduce the risk of unnecessary duplication by strengthening the administration and oversight of these programs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator should take steps, when developing the Non-Disaster Grants Management System (ND Grants) and responding to the May 2011 FEMA report recommendations on data requirements, to ensure that FEMA collects project information with the level of detail needed to better position the agency to identify any potential unnecessary duplication within and across the four grant programs, weighing any additional costs of collecting these data.

Progress:

As of December 2017, FEMA had taken actions to identify potential unnecessary duplication across four preparedness grant programs, as GAO recommended in February 2012. Although ND Grants development is ongoing, FEMA issued guidance and adopted interim processes to help identify potential duplication across the grant programs until ND Grants capabilities are upgraded over the next several years. For example, in fiscal year 2014, FEMA modified a legacy grants data system to capture more robust project-level data—such as project budget data—for the Homeland Security Grant Program, which includes the State Homeland Security Grant Program and the Urban Areas Security Initiative.

In addition, in fiscal year 2017, FEMA procured a software visualization tool and developed a standard operating procedure to assist staff in identifying potentially duplicative projects. Specifically, the visualization tool will use grants award data from the Port Security Grant Program, the Transit Security Grant Program, and the grant programs named above to highlight ZIP codes that contain multiple projects. These projects will then be analyzed by FEMA officials. According to the standard operating procedure, if duplication is suspected within a particular geographic area, further collaborative reviews should be conducted in coordination with the Office of Chief Counsel to determine appropriate remedies. Using an interim approach to collect more specific project-level data during the grant application process and utilizing the new software visualization tool should help FEMA strengthen the administration and oversight of its grant programs until FEMA implements its long-term solution to upgrade ND Grants.

Implementing Entity:

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Action:

To help reduce the risk of unnecessary duplication by strengthening the administration and oversight of these programs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator should explore opportunities to enhance FEMA’s internal coordination and administration of the programs in order to identify and mitigate the potential for any unnecessary duplication.

Progress:

In February 2017, FEMA's Grant Programs Directorate (GPD) stated it uses the Biannual Strategy Implementation Report (BSIR), housed in the Grant Reporting Tool (GRT), to enhance internal coordination between programs and identify and mitigate any potential unnecessary duplication across grants programs. Specifically, according to FEMA officials, a customized BSIR report is generated to identify recipients and sub-recipients that have received funding from multiple programs. Program officials then use these reports—which contain project-level detail derived from the Homeland Security Grant Program suite of grant programs (including the State Homeland Security Grant Program and the Urban Areas Security Initiative)—as a baseline and cross-reference Port Security Grant Program and Transit Security Grant Program applicants against the BSIR outputs. According to FEMA, this pre-award activity helps ensure that the two separate FEMA program offices—within the Preparedness Grants Division, GPD—that administer the grant programs coordinate their reviews of grant applications to help prevent the approval of potentially duplicative projects, and further reduce the chance of unnecessary duplication.  

These corrective measures meet the intent of the recommendation and should help FEMA strengthen the administration and oversight of its grant programs until FEMA implements its long-term solution to upgrade ND Grants to collect and compare project-level data for all of its preparedness grant programs.

Implementing Entity:

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Action:

Congress may want to consider requiring the Department of Homeland Security to report on the results of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) efforts to identify and prevent unnecessary duplication within and across its preparedness grant programs, and consider these results when making future funding decisions for these programs.

Progress:

No legislative action has been identified as of March 2020. FEMA's efforts to identify and prevent unnecessary duplication within and across four large preparedness grant programs are ongoing, and include planned upgrades to its grants management systems. According to FEMA officials, these system upgrades will allow FEMA to better collect and compare project-level data for all of its preparedness grant programs. Until FEMA completes these efforts, the Congressional action above remains warranted.

Implementing Entity:

Congress

Action:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should develop a plan with time frames, goals, metrics, and milestones to address longstanding coordination issues associated with its existing hybrid grants management model, which divides responsibilities for the management of preparedness grants between regional and headquarters staff.

This action was identified in GAO’s February 2016 report, Federal Emergency Management Agency: Strengthening Regional Coordination Could Enhance Preparedness Efforts (GAO-16-38), and was added to the Action Tracker in April 2016.

Progress:

FEMA has taken action to address GAO’s February 2016 recommendation. In October 2017, FEMA developed a plan—the Milestone Action Plan—to track efforts aimed at improving coordination issues associated with its hybrid grants management model, which divides responsibilities for the management of preparedness grants between regional and headquarters staff. The Milestone Action Plan describes completed, ongoing, and planned efforts taken by FEMA to improve grants management coordination and includes steps taken, goals, and time frames, among other things. 

For example, the plan shows that FEMA developed and finalized the Monitoring Actions Tracker in August 2016, a tool shared by the Grants Program Directorate in FEMA headquarters and staff in regional offices. Through the tracker, Directorate and regional staff are able to view planned and completed monitoring activities related to grants management, as well as the status of any open corrective actions. In addition to developing the Milestone Action Plan, FEMA officials described other efforts taken to improve coordination issues. For example, FEMA increased the use of an online collaboration tool, which allows for instant information sharing between the Grants Program Directorate and the regions. By taking these steps, FEMA will now be better positioned to track and evaluate efforts to improve regional coordination.

Implementing Entity:

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Action:

Congress may wish to consider limiting preparedness grant funding to maintaining existing capabilities (as determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)) until FEMA completes a national preparedness assessment of capability gaps at each level based on tiered, capability-specific performance objectives to enable prioritization of grant funding.

Progress:

Although FEMA has not completed a national preparedness assessment, Congress has reduced funding for preparedness grants for fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013, consistent with what GAO suggested in its March 2011 report. For fiscal year 2011, Congress passed the continuing appropriations act in April 2011, which reduced funding for FEMA preparedness grants by $875 million from the amount requested in the President’s fiscal year 2011 budget.1 For fiscal year 2012, Congress passed the consolidated appropriations act in December 2011, which reduced funding for FEMA preparedness grants by $1.28 billion from the amount requested in the President’s fiscal year 2012 budget.2 For fiscal year 2013, Congress passed the consolidated appropriations act in March 2013, which reduced funding for FEMA preparedness grants by about $400 million from the amount requested in the President’s fiscal year 2013 budget.3 For fiscal year 2014, Congress passed the consolidated appropriations act in January 2014, which included an amount for FEMA preparedness grants that was generally consistent with what had been appropriated in fiscal year 20134

[1] Pub. L. No. 112-10, § 1632, 125 Stat. 38, 143 (2011).

[2] Pub. L. No. 112-74, 125 Stat. 786, 960-62 (2011).

[3] Pub. L. No. 113-6, 127 Stat. 198, 358-60 (2013).

[4] Pub. L. No. 113-76, 118 Stat. 5, 261-62 (2014).

Implementing Entity:

Congress

Action:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should complete a national preparedness assessment of capability gaps at each level based on tiered, capability-specific performance objectives to enable prioritization of grant funding, and FEMA could identify the potential costs for establishing and maintaining those capabilities at each level and determine what capabilities federal agencies should provide.

Progress:

As of January 2020, FEMA has taken steps to develop a national preparedness assessment of capability gaps based on tiered, capability-specific performance objectives, as GAO suggested in March 2011. The agency continues to have efforts under way to assess urban area, state, territory, and tribal preparedness capabilities to inform the prioritization of grant funding.

Specifically, FEMA requires state, territory, tribal, and urban area governments receiving homeland security funding to annually complete Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessments (THIRA), which identify community-specific threats and hazards and assess risks and associated impacts. All 56 states and territories and urban areas are also required to complete a Stakeholder Preparedness Report (SPR), a self-assessment of their capability levels against the capability targets they identified in their respective THIRAs. According to FEMA officials, the completion of the annual THIRA and SPR positions states and territories to allocate funding to fill gaps associated with their jurisdiction-specific capability targets.

While FEMA has taken steps to help urban area, state, territory, and tribal jurisdictions assess their preparedness capabilities, the agency has not yet developed a national assessment of preparedness, which could assist in prioritizing grant funding. As GAO reported in June 2013, such an assessment would include clear, objective, and quantifiable capability requirements to identify capability gaps. At the national level, FEMA uses the SPRs, in addition to other sources, to develop the annual National Preparedness Report, which FEMA officials stated is a national assessment of preparedness.

However, while the National Preparedness Report summarizes progress made in building, sustaining, and delivering core capabilities, limitations associated with some of the data used in the SPRs as inputs to the National Preparedness Report may reduce its usefulness in assessing national preparedness. For example, in October 2010, GAO reported that data in the SPRs could be limited because FEMA relies on states and territories to self-report such data, which makes it difficult to ensure data are consistent and accurate. FEMA officials noted that regional FEMA staff review the state and territory THIRAs and SPRs for compliance with guidance, completeness, and reasonableness. However, because states and territories develop their own capability requirements, and use individual judgment rather than a quantitative standard to assess preparedness capabilities, it may be difficult to identify differences and compare capability levels across states and territories, which would be needed for FEMA to prioritize grant funding.

In 2018, FEMA reported that the agency has developed capability-specific performance objectives that will enable a national preparedness assessment of capability gaps. Specifically, FEMA issued new guidance for the THIRA and SPR requiring jurisdictions to change the methodology, moving away from proficiency-based ratings to a process that relies more on quantitative data to measure gaps across the core capabilities. FEMA required jurisdictions to begin using the new methodology to establish standard quantitative capability targets and assess core capabilities within the response and recovery mission areas. FEMA officials told GAO in November 2019 that they are working with jurisdictions on completing the quantitative assessments for all the mission areas, and plan to provide complete results in 2020.

In addition to the jurisdictions’ THIRAs and SPRs, in 2019, FEMA initiated an effort to assess the federal government’s emergency management capacity. According to FEMA, the effort is intended to provide a national THIRA and SPR that assesses the federal government’s capabilities against the nation’s threats and hazards. In July 2019, FEMA issued its 2019 National Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (National THIRA): Overview and Methodology, describing its approach to completing a national-level risk assessment (i.e., a National THIRA), which will be included in the 2020 National Preparedness Report. As of January 2020, GAO is conducting work to review this effort and plans to issue a report in April 2020. Without the National THIRA and SPR, FEMA is unable to determine what federal capacity is needed to address the capability gaps.

Implementing Entity:

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Action:

Once the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has completed its assessment, Congress may wish to consider limiting the use of federal preparedness grant programs to fund only projects to fill identified, validated, and documented capability gaps that may (or may not) include maintaining existing capabilities developed.

Progress:

In March 2011, GAO reported that FEMA’s efforts to develop and implement a comprehensive, measurable, national preparedness assessment of capability and gaps were not yet complete and suggested that Congress consider limiting preparedness grant funding until FEMA completes a national preparedness assessment of capability gaps at each level based on tiered, capability-specific performance objectives to enable prioritization of grant funding. In April 2011, Congress passed the fiscal year 2011 appropriations act for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which reduced funding for FEMA preparedness grants by $875 million from the amount requested in the President’s fiscal year 2011 budget. The consolidated appropriations act for fiscal year 2012 appropriated $1.7 billion for FEMA Preparedness grants, $1.28 billion less than requested. The House committee report accompanying the DHS appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012 stated that FEMA could not demonstrate how the use of the grants had enhanced disaster preparedness.

In March 2012 testimony, GAO reported that until such a framework is in place, FEMA will not have a basis to operationalize and implement its conceptual approach for assessing federal, state, and local preparedness.

As of March 2020, no further legislative action limiting the use of preparedness grants has been identified. FEMA has made progress in completing a national preparedness assessment for state and local jurisdictions. In 2018, FEMA required jurisdictions to begin using the new methodology to establish standard quantitative capability targets and assess core capabilities within the response and recovery mission areas. In 2019, FEMA continued with its implementation and required jurisdictions to establish standard capability targets for capabilities in the prevention, protection, and mitigation mission areas. In addition, in 2019, FEMA initiated an effort to assess the federal government’s emergency management capacity, and issued its 2019 National Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (National THIRA): Overview and Methodology, describing its approach to completing a national-level risk assessment (i.e., a National THIRA), which will be included in the 2020 National Preparedness Report. Until FEMA implements its new methodology and begins to more fully assess both federal and jurisdictional capabilities, Congress may wish to consider limiting the use of preparedness grants. 

Implementing Entity:

Congress

Action:

GAO recommended in November 2019 that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) identify and develop controls, such as methods to more easily identify transit expenses within applications FEMA receives, to address the risk of duplicate funding.

Progress:

Pending

Implementing Entity:

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Action:

GAO recommended in November 2019 that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) identify and develop controls, such as methods to more easily identify transit expenses within applications FEMA receives, to address the risk of duplicate funding.

Progress:

Pending

Implementing Entity:

Federal Transit Administration
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