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.

What GAO Recommends

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.

For more information, contact David C. Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or MaurerD@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: On 8/18/14, FEMA requested closure of this recommendation based on proposed project level enhancements that would focus on the expansion of grant management functionality down to state and local grantees and sub-grantees. It will allow the collection of project level data, which will tie to every federal grant dollar to a core capability and will better allow FEMA to measure progress made by grantees as proposed in their grant applications. As this response implements the recommendation to better position the agency to identify any potential unnecessary duplication within and across the four grant programs, FEMA GPD recommended that this item be closed. However, as GAO pointed out in our April 2014 Fragmentation, Overlap and Duplication report, due to significant delays to ND Grants, the Grant Programs Directorate (GPD) has developed an alternative solution to try to capture more robust project-level data such as project budget data from grantees during the application phase of the grant process. Specifically, GPD officials reported that GPD is modifying an existing data system to capture some project-level data when grantees apply for grant funding. Their goal is to implement this alternative solution as part of the fiscal year 2014 grant cycle. According to GPD, collecting the project-level data will allow GPD to have much greater detail on how grantees plan to utilize funding at a project level and enable GPD to utilize this information to evaluate grant applications and minimize duplication. However, even with this proposed solution, FEMA reported in November 2014 that it will not be able to cross-check for redundant projects across all preparedness grant programs until project-based applications are deployed in the ND Grants system, since some applications currently do not have sufficient detail for coordinated review of projects. This recommendation remains open.

    Recommendation: 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.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response: Federal Emergency Management Agency

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: As FEMA reported to GAO in January and August 2014, FEMA GPD believes that both Recommendation 2 and 3 will be addressed by the implementation of project-based applications and reporting which has been planned for implementation within the Non Disaster Grants System (ND Grants) for some time. As a result of reductions in funding, the deployment of additional modules for ND Grants has been significantly delayed. At this time, the time frame for the build out of project-based applications and reporting in ND Grants is FY 16. FEMA requests Recommendations #2 and #3 be reflected as resolved and open pending full implementation of the planned actions. This recommendation remains open.

    Recommendation: 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.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response: Federal Emergency Management Agency

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: In February 2014, FEMA provided an update to this recommendation. In their response, FEMA noted that this recommendation, along with recommendation #2, would be addressed by the implementation of project-based applications and reporting within the Non Disaster Grants System (ND Grants). Therefore, FEMA provided identical narrative for recommendations #2 and #3. FEMA reported that reductions in funding has resulted in significant delays in updating the ND Grants system. FEMA commented that as an interim solution, they are building out the existing Grant Reporting Tool (GRT) to accommodate project-based application/reporting. FEMA reported that the timeframe for this interim solution is March 2014 for the Homeland Security Grant Programs (including State Homeland Security Grant Program and Urban Areas Security Initiative) only. FEMA commented that the FY 2014 Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) Investment Justification (IJ) will be compiled online by State, territory and Urban Area users through the IJ Submission module in the GRT. FEMA noted that this module will provide users the ability to compile their FY 2014 IJ online collaboratively and efficiently. However, FEMA reported that the Transit Security and Port Security Grant Programs (TSGP and PSGP) will not be part of this interim solution, but will be included when project-based applications and reporting are built out in ND Grants. At this time, FEMA reported that the time frame for the build out of project-based applications and reporting in ND Grants is FY 16. They confirmed the timeframes for ND Grants in August 2014 during our follow up work for GAO's duplication update. This recommendation remains open until full implementation of the planned solution in ND Grants.

    Recommendation: 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.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response: Federal Emergency Management Agency

 

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