Sneak Preview: GAO Calls for More FEMA Oversight Coordination

March 14, 2016 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment
xgran_bookshot(The following was excerpted from a recent article in the Federal Grants Management Handbook.) The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to improve grant oversight between FEMA’s headquarters and its regional offices for monitoring efforts and to provide consistent guidance to disaster preparedness grant recipients.

FEMA, through its headquarters and 10 regional offices, is responsible for coordinating governmentwide disaster preparedness and response efforts. The agency currently uses a “hybrid management model” to oversee preparedness grant programs whereby FEMA headquarters is responsible for grant management functions such as budget review, award approval and site visits, while FEMA’s regional offices oversee financial monitoring, corrective action plans and other follow-up activities with recipients of disaster preparedness grants. The regional offices also work directly with states, tribes and territories to implement the National Incident Management System (NIMS), a standardized approach to guide emergency responders at all levels of government and the private sector to coordinate efforts when responding to incidents. FEMA uses self-assessments submitted by states to determine if they are following NIMS as required.

A report in 2009 by FEMA’s Office of Policy and Program Analysis, and in 2010 by FEMA’s Grants Preparedness Directorate’s Regional Implementation of Grants task force found that FEMA’s hybrid model has created significant inconsistencies and confusion in managing preparedness grants, adding that more oversight duties should be transferred to the regional offices. FEMA management in 2012, however, opted not to pursue the increased regional strategy of grant management, adding that the costs to do so would increase and that the potential risks would outweigh any benefits.

In its recent report, GAO found continuing challenges associated with FEMA’s hybrid management approach. States and FEMA regional officials told GAO that FEMA headquarters did not always discuss monitoring visits with regional offices, and it provided inconsistent guidance to recipients. For example, one state official said that headquarters and regional staff conducted site visits at the same location during the same week, yet neither the headquarters nor regional staff knew the other was conducting a monitoring visit that week. In addition, staff at four regional offices told GAO that headquarters officials had given guidance to state recipients that contradicted guidance provided by the regional staff.

“Because of the key role FEMA’s regional offices play in national disaster preparedness efforts, effective regional coordination and collaboration between FEMA headquarters, FEMA regions, and state and local stakeholders is essential,” GAO said. “These challenges continue to hamper the effectiveness of interactions between FEMA and state officials in implementing the preparedness grants program.”

(The full version of this story has now been made available to all for a limited time on Thompson’s Grants Compliance Expert site.)

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