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FEMA’s Oversight of Homeland Security Grant Program Needs Improvement

Although states and urban areas generally administered homeland security grants efficiently and effectively in FY 2014, strategic planning and oversight of grant activities by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) needs improvement, according to an audit report by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG).

DHS provides funding through the Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) to assist state and local agencies in enhancing their capabilities to prevent, protect, mitigate, respond to and recover from terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. FEMA is responsible for the administration of the HSGP.

In response to an annual reporting requirement, OIG conducted individual audits of states’ and territories’ management of State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) and Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grants.

FEMA awarded about $447 million in grants to 13 states, 4 territories, and the District of Columbia during 3-year periods between fiscal years 2009 and 2012. According to the OIG, the audits addressed “the extent to which grant funds enhanced the states’ and urban areas’ ability to prevent, prepare for, protect against, and respond to natural disasters, acts of terrorism and other manmade disasters.”

Although the Inspector General made no new recommendations in the report, in the 18 individual audit reports they recommended that FEMA require the states and urban areas to make improvements in two major areas: strategic planning and oversight of grant activities.

Moreover, the IG auditors also identified about $14.5 million in questioned costs.

FEMA concurred with 165 of the 169 recommendations the OIG made to address the areas identified for improvement. Moreover, FEMA has taken action to implement 85 recommendations.

Strategic Planning

The Alabama Department of Homeland Security (ALDHS)—the agency designated by the Governor of Alabama to provide administrative oversight of HSGP—did not did not have a current, FEMA-approved homeland security strategy. However, the agency did use an outdated strategy with measurable goals, objectives, and implementation.

FEMA concurred withthe OIG’s recommendation to submit a current homeland security strategy that includes objectives that are “specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented, and time-limited.”

By using the National Preparedness Goal and the National Preparedness System to assess grant effectiveness, FEMA has made great progress in assessing grant performance.

Similarly, the Inspector General concluded that North Dakota homeland security strategies did not provide a sufficient basis to measure performance or capability improvements and that a new homeland security strategy could enhance North Dakota’s effectiveness in the overall use of the grant funds.

The OIG also found Maine could improve its grant management practices by developing a formal management process to measure performance, enhancing procurement procedures and obligating grant funds within the required time period.

In the District of Columbia, DHS OIG determined that SHSP and UASI awards were generally spent in compliance with applicable Federal laws and regulations.

However, the OIG stated that, “District of Columbia can improve its grant management practices. Specifically, homeland security strategies did not contain adequately defined objectives to use in measuring performance.”

“The objectives were broad based and did not provide for tracking and measuring the impact of funds expended for equipment, training and exercises,” the OIG stated. “We identified objectives that were not specific, detailed, particular or focused; were not measurable; did not identify outcomes; and did not establish timeframes for completion."

Questioned costs

Although in most instances states and urban areas administered grant programs efficiently and effectively and in compliance with grant guidance and regulations, the OIG identified about $14.5 million in questioned costs.

For example, FEMA awarded Hawaii about $27.8 million in SHSP and UASI grants for FY 2009 through FY 2011. The Inspector General identified approximately $7.4 million in questioned costs as a result of Hawaii’s failure to state not comply with federal procurement rules, unsupported personnel time charges, and an inability to support the benefits received by local subgrantees for funds withheld by the State Administrative Agency.

However, the OIG said, “In most instances, the State of Hawaii distributed and spent the awards in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.”

In Oregon, OIG questioned approximately $2.3 million in expenses for FYs 2010 through 2012 after the state usedSHSP grant funds for ineligible personnel costs, lacked proper payroll documentation, and improperly allocated indirect costs to its SHSP grants.

In response, FEMA will request that the State of Oregon submit a corrective action plan to initiate an independent audit within 90 days of the receipt of the OIG’s draft report.

In Puerto Rico, the OIG identified more than $2 million in questioned costs, primarily resulting from unsupported costs, unauthorized equipment purchases, and improper use of funds by subgrantees in fiscal years 2009 through 2011.

However, Puerto Rico otherwise “did an effective and efficient job of administering the program requirements, distributing grant funds, and ensuring that all available funds were used.”

In the District of Columbia, the OIG identified about $1.3 million in questioned costs, primarily resulting from personnel time charges that were not adequately supported.

FEMA concurred with the OIG’s recommendation to develop a comprehensive performance measurement system for SHSP and UASI homeland security goals and objectives. The recommendations are now resolved and closed.

Not a new problem: FEMA’s lack of oversight of grant programs

The OIG’s report recommending FEMA improve its strategic planning and oversight of homeland security grants emerges amid an uproar over the agency’s mismanagement of public assistance grant programs.

As Homeland Security Today recently reported, an audit by the OIG revealed  deficient insurance review processes used by FEMA resulted in the agency overfunding its FY 2004-2005 Florida hurricane grants by more than $177 million, leaving the government liable for an estimated $1 billion in future disaster costs.

“FEMA officials must assure that aid recipients’ private insurers bear their share of disaster losses before they approve the use of Federal funds,” said Inspector General John Roth. “And it is unconscionable that those officials would also leave the taxpayers liable for future losses by defying policy and ignoring the requirement that recipients obtain insurance coverage for future storms.”

Moreover, in July 2014, Homeland Security Today reported 58 management and disaster relief fund audit reports by the OIG identified $88.6 million in questioned costs and $8.9 million in funds that could be put to better use.

“We cannot place a dollar figure on the value of these audits,” the Inspector General stated, “but there is little question that, if our recommendations are followed, the department can save hundreds of millions per year and more effectively execute its mission.”

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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