While 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 its Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) grant programs in response to the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2012 (FGRA), a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit report said, “FEMA has several opportunities to enhance its administration of fire grants and how their contributions to national preparedness are assessed.”
“For example,” GAO stated, “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.”
GAO said that be establishing better measurable performance targets that are 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.”
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.
The GAO audit report said while “the US 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 … 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.”
To its credit, GAO said GPD has incorporated a majority of recommended changes into its existing application and award processes. For example, GAO said, “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.
GAO made 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,” GAO reported.
FEMA allocated almost $5.8 billion from 2009 to 2016 in award grants to fire departments and other organizations for equipment, staffing, research and other needs.
GAO noted that public fire departments in the US responded to almost 1.3 million fires in the United States in 2014 alone which resulted in more than 3,275 civilian deaths, 15,775 injuries and $11.6 billion in property loss.