Doubts about National Preparedness Grant Program exist

8 05 2012

The following article was written by Rob Margetta of the Congressional Quarterly.  It provides a decent overview of the concerns and questions that are arising related to a proposal to consolidate 16 FEMA administered grant programs into one single grant program.  Some concerns are related to the paucity of details on how the National Preparedness Grant Program would be established and administered.

Other concerns are related to the changes that might be made to popular grant programs that are now run in a more independent manner.  In the case of Fort Bend County, we have received funding from grant programs such as the Urban Area Security Initiative, State Homeland Security Program, and the Emergency Management Performance Grant program.  The funds received from these grant programs have assisted the County in building greater capacities to handle disaster response.

Other questions are being raised about the parts of the plan that give all the funding to state governments for distribution, instead of providing it directly to local recipients, like Fort Bend County.  The primary concern is whether local governments will actually be part of the grant management process envisioned by the National Preparedness Grant Program.

As Margetta writes:

Months after the Obama administration unveiled its proposal to roll 16 grant programs overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency into a single pool, lawmakers and local emergency-response officials are saying they still don’t know enough about the plan to overcome their initial, negative reactions.

The Obama budget request would provide the consolidated “National Preparedness Grant Program” with $1.5 billion in fiscal 2013, $424 million more than the 16 programs received in fiscal 2012, when several of them were zeroed out. Still, the proposal has come under fire from stakeholders worried that their favorite grant programs will suffer under the change, as well as lawmakers and officials who don’t like other parts of the administration’s plan, such as giving all funding to states to distribute, instead of providing it directly to local recipients.

Florida Republican Gus Bilirakis, chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications, said during a hearing last week that the administration needs to provide more specifics about how the consolidated system would work.

“I must say that I find it particularly troubling that . . . it’s been more than two months after the president’s budget was released and . . . the subcommittee still has not received sufficient detail on this proposal,” he said.

Ranking Democrat Laura Richardson of California said the administration did not conduct necessary briefings with grant recipients before putting forward its proposal.

Hui-Shan L. Walker, emergency management coordinator for Hampton, Va., and U.S. president of the International Association of Emergency Managers, said local officials agree homeland grant dollars should be spent transparently and effectively. However, she expressed concern about the president’s plan, calling it “a vision with very few details on how the process would work and what the impacts would be.”

The consolidated grant pool plan would require all funded projects to be based on capability gaps identified by the federal Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) guide. Walker called the approach “state centric” and said the administration has not clearly explained how local government officials would have meaningful participation in the THIRA process.

She and other witnesses expressed particular concern about the administration’s plan to include the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), worth $532 million in fiscal 2012, in the grant pool. Judson Freed, director of emergency management and homeland security for Ramsey County, Minn., who appeared on behalf of the National Association of Counties, said the plan would ramp up conflicts between state and local governments, damaging a decade’s worth of work in building relationships.

While a new block grant program “may be a worthwhile concept and certainly deserves consideration, it must not be implemented at the cost of dismantling what has already been built and consigning local risk to a minor role,” he said.

One vote of confidence for FEMA’s plan came from Jim Davis, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety and vice chairman of the Homeland Security Advisors Council at the National Governors Association. In a time of tight budgets, he said, grant funding should be centralized, and the states would be the best entities for distributing it and monitoring its use. “I can say that the one thing that we are very appreciative of is FEMA’s recognition that the state has a role in the coordination of grant funding for the state,” he said.

The National Association of County Officials (NACo) has adopted a Resolution opposing the restructuring of grants as recommended by the federal government.  NACo opposes the change in the 2012 Emergency Management Performance Grant Program (EMPG) guidance expanding eligible subgrantees for the grant program, and urges Congress to require the Secretary to return to the intent of the EMPG funding and ensure that the funding is passed to local governments.

NACo opposes the assignment of final authority of the Adopted FY2013 National Preparedness Grant Program (NPGP) block grant to the state administrator. NACo requests that Congress require the Secretary to ensure that commissions consisting of county Emergency Managers and other county Public Safety agents be established in each state to vet requests for funding and ensure that the overall needs of the local communities are met, and that the State Administrator not become the final decision maker. Further, the NPGP must include the requirement to pass through no less than 80% of the funds to the Counties directly.

NACo opposes the inclusion of the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) funding in the NPG block grant. NACo requests that Congress fully fund the UASI program and assure that no less than 80% of funds are passed through to the large urban areas. Further, NACo requests that Congress fully considers the risk of disaster to such areas and not limit the UASI program to the specific terrorism risk of certain large cities.