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Homeland Security: DHS Needs Better Project Information and Coordination among Four Overlapping Grant Programs

GAO-12-303 Published: Feb 28, 2012. Publicly Released: Mar 20, 2012.
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What GAO Found

Multiple factors contribute to the risk of duplication among four FEMA grant programs that GAO studied—the State Homeland Security Program (SHSP), Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), Port Security Grant Program, and Transit Security Grant Program. Specifically, these programs share similar goals, fund similar projects, and provide funds in the same geographic regions. Further, DHS’s ability to track grant funding, specific funding recipients, and funding purposes varies among the programs, giving FEMA less visibility over some grant programs. Finally, DHS’s award process for some programs bases decisions on high-level, rather than specific, project information. Although GAO’s analysis identified no cases of duplication among a sample of grant projects, the above factors collectively put FEMA at risk of funding duplicative projects. FEMA officials stated that there is a trade-off between enhancing management visibility and reducing administrative burden, but also recogized that FEMA should use more specific project-level information for award decisions and have taken initial steps towards this goal. For example, FEMA is considering how to better use existing grant information and has also begun to phase in a grants management system that includes an explicit goal of collecting project-level information. However, FEMA has not determined all of its specific data requirements. As FEMA determines these requirements, it will be important to collect the level of information needed to compare projects across grant programs. Given the limitations in currently collected information, FEMA would benefit from collecting information with greater detail as this could help FEMA better position itself to assess applications and ensure that it is using its resources effectively.

FEMA, as well as state and local stakeholders, have taken steps to improve coordination in administering the four programs, but FEMA could take further action. For example, FEMA does not internally coordinate application reviews across the four programs. Specifically, the programs are managed by two separate FEMA divisions which review grant applications for each program separately and there is no process in place to ensure that application information is shared among the programs during this process. Thus, it is difficult for FEMA to identify whether grant monies are being used for the same or similar purposes. FEMA could benefit from further examining its internal grant coordination process, while considering the large volume of grant applications it must process.

FEMA introduced some performance measures for the UASI and SHSP programs in 2011 that add value, but these measures do not assess program effectiveness. FEMA has efforts under way to develop outcome measures—that will focus on program effectiveness—for each of the four grant programs in this review, but has not completed these efforts. Further, the FEMA project plan that guides these efforts does not provide information on what measures will be implemented for each grant program and when this will occur. A revised project plan that includes more specific schedule information and accurate implementation timelines could help guide these efforts. DHS also has several efforts under way to measure the collective effectiveness of its grant programs in achieving shared program goals, but these efforts are recent and ongoing. Thus, it is too soon to evaluate the extent to which these initiatives will provide FEMA with the information it needs to determine whether these grant programs are effectively improving the nation’s security.

Why GAO Did This Study

From fiscal years 2002 through 2011, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) distributed approximately $20.3 billion to four grant programs: the State Homeland Security Program, Urban Areas Security Initiative, Port Security Grant Program, and Transit Security Grant Program. These programs are intended to enhance the capacity of state and local first responders to prevent, respond to, and recover from a terrorism incident. GAO was asked to evaluate the extent to which: (1) overlap and other factors among these programs could impact the risk of duplication; (2) mechanisms exist that enhance coordination and reduce the risk of duplication and how they are being implemented; and (3) DHS has implemented performance measures to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed grant guidance and funding allocation methodologies. GAO also interviewed DHS officials, and grant administrators in five urban areas—selected because they receive funding from all four grant programs in this review—about grant processes and program challenges, among other things.


GAO recommends that DHS: (1) collect project information with the level of detail needed to identify any unnecessary duplication; (2) explore opportunities for enhanced internal coordination in grant administration; and (3) revise its plan to ensure the timely implementation of performance measures to assess the effectiveness of these grants. DHS concurred with all recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Federal Emergency Management Agency To help reduce the risk of duplication by strengthening DHS's administration and oversight of these programs, and to better identify and reduce the risk of duplication through improved data collection and coordination, the FEMA Administrator should take steps, when developing non disaster grant 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.
Closed – Implemented
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.
Federal Emergency Management Agency To help reduce the risk of duplication by strengthening DHS's administration and oversight of these programs, and to better identify and reduce the risk of duplication through improved data collection and coordination, the 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.
Closed – Implemented
FEMA's Grant Programs Directorate (GPD) plans to use the Biannual Strategy Implementation Report (BSIR), housed in the Grant Reporting Tool (GRT), to enhance internal coordination between programs and mitigate and identify any potential unnecessary duplication. Specifically, according to FEMA officials, a customized BSIR report will be generated to identify recipients and sub-recipients that have received funding from multiple programs. Program officials will then use these reports--which contain project-level detail derived from the Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) suite of grant programs (including the Urban Area Initiative)--as a baseline and will cross-reference Port Security Grant Program and Transit Security Grant Program applicants against the BSIR outputs. This pre-award activity will 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 the ND Grants System to collect and compare project-level data for all of its preparedness grant programs.
Federal Emergency Management Agency To better assess the effectiveness of these programs, the FEMA Administrator should revise the agency's Performance Measure Implementation Plan to include more specific project schedule information and accurate timeliness in order to guide the timely completion of ongoing efforts to develop and implement outcome-based performance measures for the SHSP, UASI, Port Security Grant Program (PSGP), and Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP) grant programs.
Closed – Implemented
In February 2017, FEMA officials provided a copy of the 2016 Redundancy Elimination and Enhanced Performance for Preparedness Grants Act Biennial Report with outcome measures developed and implemented for the Homeland Security Grant Program programs including SHSP and UASI. FEMA's report notes that, since the release of the 2014 report, FEMA adopted five new measures to complete implementation of all 16 National Academy of Public Administration-recommended measures for improving management of SHSP and UASI grants. In addition, officials also provided measures to assess PSGP and TSGP performance. For example, two measures evaluate the percent of TSGP recipients that improved training capability ratings, as determined in the most recent Baseline Assessment and Security Enhancement (BASE) evaluation while two measures assess the percent of PSGP funding recipients use to build new or sustain existing capabilities. Because PSGP grant guidance prioritizes sustainment of existing capabilities over building of new capabilities, FEMA can use its measures to demonstrate that recipients have used PSGP to fund new capabilities, increasing the emergency response capacity and resiliency of the recipient community. Taken together, these efforts meet the intent of our recommendation and should help FEMA assess the results of these four programs.

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Grant programsHomeland securityPerformance measurementGrant awardNational preparednessTransit securityTerrorismPort securityEmergency managementData collection