Countering Violent Extremism: DHS Needs to Improve Grants Management and Data Collection
The Department of Homeland Security began a Countering Violent Extremism Grant Program in 2016. It funds efforts to reduce individual and societal risk factors and prevent violence in the United States.
Our review of the program found that after DHS announced intended grantees for 2017-2019, it revised its selection criteria and didn't document reasons for its selections, making it harder to ensure grantees are selected equitably. DHS also didn't obtain data on grantee performance, which it needs to assess program effectiveness.
We recommended that DHS document its award rationales and ensure that grantees submit data for performance reviews.
Location and Number of Deaths Associated with Domestic Extremist Attacks, 2010-2019
What GAO Found
While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) followed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance for announcing the 2016 Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Grant Program and reviewing applications, DHS did not document the basis for its final award decisions. In June 2017, DHS awarded a total of $10 million in CVE grants to 26 grantees for a 2-year performance period (2017 to 2019). Consistent with OMB guidance, DHS included program priorities and eligibility requirements in its grant announcement and described the process for reviewing and selecting grant applications for award. However, after DHS announced its selection of 31 applications for awards, it ran a new process resulting in revised selections, which was based on additional selection criteria not expressly listed in the grant announcement. While DHS officials explained to GAO how these additional criteria aligned with the grant announcement, these explanations do not appear in DHS's award documentation. Without such documentation, DHS cannot clearly demonstrate that its award decisions were based on the process described in the grant announcement.
Figure: Location and Number of Deaths Associated with Domestic Extremist Attacks, 2010-2019
DHS did not obtain the necessary data from grantees to evaluate the overall CVE grant program. DHS required grant organizations to develop, collect, and submit their own output and outcome-related information to help enable the department to evaluate individual grantees and the overall grant program. However, a DHS review of four grant projects concluded that the grantees did not collect the type of performance information DHS needed to determine the grants' effectiveness, such as data at various time intervals to assess change in attitudinal behavior. Taking steps to ensure grantees collect and submit appropriate performance data would enable DHS to evaluate the extent that individual grant projects and the overall grant program are achieving results. Such information would help DHS manage the program and make adjustments as warranted.
Why GAO Did This Study
From 2010 through 2019, data collected through the Extremist Crime Database show that 205 deaths resulted from 59 violent extremist attacks in the United States. DHS received funding in 2016 to establish a new CVE Grant Program to support efforts by state and local governments and nongovernmental organizations to reduce risk factors associated with violent extremism. GAO was asked to review management of the CVE Grant Program.
This report examines, among other things, the extent to which DHS (1) announced, reviewed, and awarded CVE grants in accordance with OMB guidance and (2) evaluated the performance of CVE grantees and the overall program. GAO reviewed documentation of DHS's actions in announcing, reviewing and awarding CVE grants; and documentation on steps taken to assess the performance of grantees and the overall program; as compared to requirements in key documents, including the CVE grant announcement, elements of internal control, and a DHS 2017 report to Congress.
GAO recommends that DHS, for future CVE-related grant programs: (1) develop policy to document the rationale for award decisions, and (2) take steps to ensure that grantees collect and submit data on project performance that enable evaluation of individual grants and the overall grant program toward intended outcomes. DHS concurred with both recommendations.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Homeland Security||The Director for the Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention should develop policy to ensure the Office documents its rationale for grant-making decisions for future CVE-related grant programs. (Recommendation 1)||
In February 2021, we reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) generally followed guidance in publicizing, scoring, and awarding the 2016 Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Grant Program. However, it did not document the process it used to make final award decisions. We recommended that the DHS's Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (OTVTP) develop policy to ensure that the office documents its rationale for grant-making decisions for future CVE-related grant programs. In response, in August 2021, DHS's new office responsible for CVE-related grants-the Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (C3P)-provided us its finalized policy in the grants management plan. This policy requires CP3 to detail specific information about the selection criteria and process and outline the rationale for the selection of every award made. Further, DHS provided us a copy of the 2020 Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention award documentation that adheres to this policy. Specifically, DHS's funding memo outlines the department's priorities in awarding grants, also identified in the 2020 grant notice for applicants to consider when submitting applications. Further, the funding memo explains the factors that subject matter expert used to score applications. The highest scoring applications were then reviewed by a panel of experts to develop a list of recommendations to make final award decisions, which were approved. In the accompanying information to the funding memo, DHS outlined specific reasons why the applications were selected to be awarded. For instance, DHS stated that one selected application was awarded because the project met DHS's priority of establishing local prevention frameworks while providing geographic diversity to the grant program. By developing such a policy to detail specific information about the selection criteria and by developing documentation demonstrating how the grant announcement and funding decisions are aligned, DHS can show that its award decisions are defensible, thereby increasing DHS credibility in its selection process. As a result, we believe that DHS has met the intention of this recommendation.
|Department of Homeland Security||The Director for the Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention should take steps to ensure grantees collect and submit data that would enable evaluation of individual grant and overall grant program achievement of intended outcomes for future CVE-related grant programs. (Recommendation 2)||
In February 2021, we reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) collected some performance information on individual grantee program activities. However, DHS did not have information necessary to evaluate the overall effectiveness of the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Grant Program. We recommended that DHS's Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention take steps to ensure grantees collect and submit data that would enable DHS evaluation of individual grants and the overall grant program. In February 2021, DHS told us that a new grant program funding notice required its applicants to include specific performance measures sufficient to evaluate whether grant projects and the overall grant program are successful in achieving intended outcomes. DHS stated that the Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention documented this process in its Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention Grant Program Evaluation Plan. The evaluation plan discusses how DHS plans to monitor individual grantee reporting and data collection; and DHS's plans to assess whether grant recipients are implementing programs as designed, among other things. In November 2021, officials from the Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (CP3)--the new office that replaced the Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention--provided a management plan tool that grantees use to collect information on output and outcome data that must be approved by CP3 before grantees begin their activities. Further, CP3 worked with DHS's Science and Technology Directorate to determine whether grants were in fact developing and obtaining information that could help measure the effectiveness of individual grants. In March 2022, the Directorate reported that, despite some challenges, grants in the report could be assessed for their effectiveness. This in turn makes it possible for DHS to measure the entire grant program's effectiveness. In addition, in April 2022, CP3, and the Science and Technology Directorate developed a terms of work with DHS's Center of Excellence for National Counterterrorism, Innovation, Technology, and Education Center to study the individual grants and entire Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention Grant Program's effectiveness, with a start date to for assessment to start around July 2022. These DHS actions to study both the individual grants effectiveness and the overall grant program's, DHS's efforts meets the intent of the recommendation.