GAO to FEMA: Make Sure Grants Programs Do Not Overlap

The Government Accountability Office last month warned FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, that four of its grants programs may be providing money to the same recipients or for the same efforts. But GAO can’t tell, because reports from grantees are not comparable. GAO has asked FEMA to improve its data collection processes, coordinate reviews across programs, and tighten its outcomes reporting.

As the Federal watchdog, GAO will likely evaluate grants programs at other agencies as well. Government agencies should be prepared to show that they know what support their grants recipients receive from other programs, and that where possible, decisions are made across programs rather than in decision silos.

The GAO report on FEMA looked at four programs, the State Homeland Security Program, Urban Areas Security Initiative, Port Security Grant Program, and Transit Security Grant Program. Each is designed “to enhance the capacity of state and local first responders to prevent, respond to, and recover from a terrorism incident” with training, planning, equipment, and exercises, according to the GAO. But the information FEMA requires from its grants recipients is not detailed enough to “identify any potential unnecessary duplication within and across the four grant programs,” GAO says.

Part of the problem is that the programs “share the same goals,” operate in the same geographic areas, and fund similar projects, so overlap is a risk. Moreover, “DHS’s award process for some programs bases decisions on high-level, rather than specific, project information.”

GAO admitted that it could find no instances of overlap, but the risk is high, the investigators said. They recommended collecting more detailed information, and even coordinating reviews across programs to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not concentrated on a few recipients. FEMA administrators agreed with the findings.