Domestic Preparedness Grants Breed Concern, Prioritizing, Partnerships

July 18, 2011 | By Adrianne Fielding | Post a Comment

This morning, federal, state and Capitol Hill representatives shared concerns and predictions at an executive briefing on “The Future of Grants in Domestic Preparedness” at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., which was hosted by DomesticPreparedness.com and sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton.

The findings from a recent survey to approximately 220 domestic preparedness experts and stakeholders were echoed in prepared remarks on the subject from the quartet of speakers. Most survey respondents facing recent and expected cuts to preparedness funding expect to redefine their priorities to focus on mission-critical activities, which led Marko Bourne, principal with Booz Allen Hamilton, to note that “the challenge is in that prioritization.”

Robert Glenn, executive director and homeland security advisor, Ohio Homeland Security Division, Ohio Department of Public Health, said that his agency has had to determine which capabilities are really priorities and how its projects can be sustained with decreased federal and state funding as Urban Area Security Initiative and other preparedness funds have shrunk.

But as Ohio is looking back and looking forward to develop a strategy that reflects the state’s priorities, not necessarily the priorities coming out of Washington, the challenges of reduced funding have also engendered collaboration and partnerships.

Other panelists suggested that preparedness and public safety activities themselves are rooted in interdependencies that breed – if not demand – cooperation across jurisdictional lines, on a regional basis, among federal agencies, and at different levels of government – especially with less funding to go around.

Elizabeth M. Harman, assistant administrator of Grant Programs Directorate, FEMA, advocated regionalism by encouraging cities and states to “take a very far step back, refocus, and look at what they’re doing regionally.” Implying that the distinction between state and local preparedness assets is somewhat arbitrary and not useful, Harman advocated for thinking of both types as valuable national assets.  She pointed to the recent Joplin, Mo. tornadoes as a case in which the surrounding area’s preparedness capabilities had been developed to a level that few federal resources needed to be deployed.  She soberly remarked that for preparedness programs, “the days of buying stuff are very bleak” and advised past award recipients to shift into maintenance mode.

The need for increased coordination across federal agencies and at various levels of government was also emphasized by Dr. Bernadette McGuire-Rivera, associate administrator, NTIA, Department of Commerce. She observed that interactive and interoperative communications requires cooperation across the public safety community, and the increasing difficulty in meeting matching requirements has applicants looking for additional partnerships. She predicts that on the federal side, the increased scrutiny of federal grants and increased reporting and monitoring requirements “will become the norm” and that agencies will continue struggling to balance grant administration and grantee support.

Jason Barnosky, professional staff member, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, cited multiple factors that justify pessimism about the prospects for domestic preparedness programs. Barnowsky pointed to the general “chattering” in Congress about duplicative federal programs, as well as “a decent contingent” in Congress that considers domestic preparedness activities to be state and local responsibilities. Add the lower revenues available for federal spending and the chronic lack of systematic, quantifiable evidence about program effectiveness – and the partnerships needed between state and local governments and FEMA to showcase success stories and “get ahead of these programs moving forward as Congress becomes more conservative” may end up being the most important collaborations of all.

(Photo: Elizabeth M. Harman and Jason Barnosky take questions from the audience at a July 18, 2011, executive briefing on “The Future of Grants in Domestic Preparedness” at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.)

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