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: FEMA has taken steps to address GAO's February 2012 recommendation, but actions are not complete. For example, in December 2012, FEMA officials reported that the agency intended to start collecting and analyzing project-level data from grantees in fiscal year 2014; however, FEMA has not yet finalized specific data requirements and has not fully established the vehicle to collect these data--a new data system called the Non-Disaster Grants Management System (ND Grants) 3.0. In October 2015, FEMA reaffirmed that implementation of ND Grants had been delayed because of reduced funding, but that FEMA plans to use the system to accept more detailed project-level grant applications in fiscal year 2017. Specifically, FEMA stated in March 2016 that it plans to collect project-level data for the State Homeland Security Grant Program, the Urban Areas Security Initiative, the Port Security Grant Program, and the Transit Security Grant Program when an existing grants data system is merged with the new ND Grants system in fiscal year 2017. As an interim step until the systems are merged, FEMA reported in March 2016 that its existing grants data system had already been modified to capture more robust project-level data--such as project budget data--from certain grantees during the application phase of the grant process. For example, FEMA stated that project-based applications and reporting were required for the Homeland Security Grant Program, which includes the State Homeland Security Grant Program and the Urban Areas Security Initiative, starting with the fiscal year 2014 grant cycle. According to FEMA, collecting this project-level data should allow FEMA to have much greater detail on how grantees plan to utilize funding at a project level and enable the agency to use this information to evaluate grant applications and minimize duplication. Even with this interim step, however, FEMA stated that it will not be able to cross-check for redundant projects across all preparedness grant programs until project-based applications are deployed for all preparedness grant programs in the ND Grants system. For example, Port Security Grant Program and Transit Security Grant Program applications are not housed in the existing grants data system that was modified to collect more specific project data. FEMA reported that the Funding Opportunity Announcement for the Homeland Security Grant Program communicates an expectation that applicants collaborate with all preparedness grant stakeholders, including Port Security Grant Program and Transit Security Grant Program grantees, to help ensure unity of effort and avoid redundant investment proposals. Utilizing an interim approach to collect more specific project-level data during the grant application process should help FEMA strengthen the administration and oversight of its grant programs. However, implementing ND Grants as previously planned would better position FEMA to identify potentially unnecessary duplication within and across grant programs, as ND Grants was designed to have greater project-level enhancement capability than the legacy system.

    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: The President's budget requests for fiscal years 2013 through 2016 outlined FEMA's plan to consolidate most of its preparedness grants programs, which FEMA officials stated is the best way to avoid duplication and eliminate redundancy; however, Congress has not approved this consolidation, and FEMA did not request consolidation in the President's budget request for fiscal year 2017. As a result, FEMA should continue to explore other opportunities to improve grants management, as GAO recommended in February 2012. The President's budget requests for fiscal years 2013 through 2016 proposed the establishment of the National Preparedness Grant Program (NPGP), a consolidation of 16 grant programs into a comprehensive single program. According to FEMA officials, the NPGP would eliminate redundancies and requirements placed on both the federal government and grantees resulting from the existing system of multiple individual, and often disconnected, grant programs. For example, FEMA officials said that the number of applications a state would need to submit and the federal government's resources required to administer the applications would both decrease under the consolidated program. Congressional committees, however, have expressed concern that the consolidation plan lacks detail,[1] and the NPGP has not been approved as of February 2016,[2] nor requested in the President's fiscal year 2017 budget request. In the absence of a plan to consolidate preparedness grants programs, FEMA should continue to explore other opportunities to improve grants management. For example, FEMA should ensure that the separate program offices that administer the grant programs coordinate their reviews of grant applications to help prevent the approval of potentially duplicative projects. FEMA also stated that project-based applications and reporting should mitigate the potential for unnecessary duplication once these approaches are implemented for all preparedness grant programs in the Non-Disaster Grants Management System (ND Grants) 3.0. For example, FEMA reported in March 2016 that it plans to collect project-level data for the State Homeland Security Grant Program, the Urban Areas Security Initiative, the Port Security Grant Program, and the Transit Security Grant Program when an existing grants data system is merged with the new ND Grants system in fiscal year 2017. Such actions could help reduce the risk of unnecessary duplication by improving FEMA's insight and oversight across its suite of distinct preparedness grants. [1] See, e.g., H.R. Rep. No. 113-481, at 101 (2014). [2] See Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2016, Pub. L. No. 114-113, Section 548 (2016) (for fiscal year 2016, prohibiting the obligation of funds to implement NPGP or any other successor grant program unless explicitly authorized by Congress).

    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 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). In October 2015, FEMA affirmed that implementation of ND Grants had been delayed because of reduced funding, but that FEMA plans to use the system to accept more detailed project-level grant applications in fiscal year 2017. Specifically, FEMA stated in March 2016 that it plans to collect project-level data for the State Homeland Security Grant Program, the Urban Areas Security Initiative, the Port Security Grant Program, and the Transit Security Grant Program when an existing grants data system is merged with the new ND Grants system in fiscal year 2017. We will continue to monitor the implementation of ND-Grants and how the system may be utilized to develop performance measures for these four large preparedness grant programs.

    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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