2013-06-25 National Governors Association

Testimony – Homeland Security Grants

Statement of John W. Madden
Director, Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management
President, National Emergency Management Association
Member, Governors Homeland Security Advisors Council 

Submitted to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Emergency Management, Intergovernmental Relations, and the District of Columbia
“Are We Prepared? Measuring the Impact of Preparedness Grants since September 11”

Thank you Chairman Begich, Ranking Member Paul, and members of the Subcommittee for holding this hearing today.  I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you to provide a state perspective in this important dialogue on measuring the effectiveness of homeland security grant programs. Today I represent both the Governors Homeland Security Advisors Council (GHSAC) of the National Governors Association and the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA).  Between GHSAC and NEMA, we represent the state emergency management directors and homeland security advisors of the 55 states and territories and the District of Columbia.

Introduction

As the current president of NEMA and a former executive committee member of GHSAC, I have witnessed a number of efforts over the past decade to measure the effectiveness and performance of homeland security preparedness grants.  We are here today because while many of these measurement efforts were well-intentioned they have clearly fallen short as a proven means of assessing the long-term value of these programs.  With almost $40 billion in federal funding allocated to these grant programs since their inception, it is reasonable for Congress and the American people to ask, “What is the return on our investment?”

Unfortunately, we will continue struggling to answer such a question at all levels of government despite clear gains in our nation’s level of homeland security preparedness as a result of these grants.  At this time, most of those gains can only be proven with anecdotal evidence and piecemeal data.  Until recently, state and local grantees have found little federal guidance on strategic baselines by which to measure progress or assess risk overall.

Performance measurement is just one issue in a more pervasive set of challenges across these grant programs.  The current homeland security grants structure is a result of the expansion and contraction of up to eighteen different programs, which often overlap in both purpose and administrative requirements.  This not only places an unnecessary burden on grantees, but also risks duplicative investments, inhibits coordination between stakeholders, and limits effective prioritization of federal funding.  Any effort to establish a better performance measurement system must occur in tandem with a comprehensive effort to address the long-standing structural issues with these programs.

Federal Investment has Improved Preparedness

Since September 11, 2001, billions in federal, state, and local funds have been invested to strengthen homeland security and emergency preparedness. Federal funds have provided critical support to supplement state, local, and territorial efforts to prevent, prepare for, mitigate, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks and natural disasters.  States continue using homeland security grant funds to develop and sustain core capabilities such as intelligence fusion centers, statewide interoperable communications, specialized response teams and citizen preparedness programs.

For example:

  • In 2011 and 2012, multi-jurisdiction, multi-agency exercises were conducted through the Boston urban area (UASI) and funded with homeland security grant funds.  These full-scale exercises brought together local, regional and state SWAT teams, explosive ordinance detection teams, hazardous materials teams, technical rescue teams, and emergency medical services to test operational coordination, communications, and response capabilities around Mumbai style (active shooter) and improvised explosive device scenarios.  These same jurisdictions and resources responded to the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013, and the massive terrorist manhunt on April 18-19.
  • During the Boston Marathon bombing and ensuing manhunt in April, federal homeland security grant funds supported essential equipment for a number of key law enforcement and response capabilities including: law enforcement tactical response team (SWAT) armored vehicles; Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR) cameras for state police helicopters; bomb detection dogs and robots; key upgrades and renovations to the state emergency operations center; and mobile command unit vehicles for enhanced command, control and communications during the marathon and in the bombing response.
  • In addition, two Massachusetts fusion centers that have been supported by homeland security grant funds also played a critical role during the Boston Marathon.  In advance of the marathon, a joint threat assessment was prepared by the Commonwealth Fusion Center and the Boston Regional Intelligence Center in coordination with DHS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  During the response to the bombing, both fusion centers worked with the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force to support the investigation of the attacks.  Once suspects were identified, technology systems used by the Commonwealth Fusion Center, including the Statewide Information Sharing System, were queried and provided additional information about the suspects’ prior histories in Massachusetts.
  • During the response to Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, public safety communications systems that were developed and supported using federal funds quickly issued alerts and warnings to more segments of the population than in previous emergencies.
  • Following the deadly tornado in Moore, Oklahoma in May, the local Incident Response Commander called in support from a Regional Response System comprised of specialized technical teams trained in areas such as urban rescue, mass medical, and hazardous materials response.  Federal homeland security investments helped build this statewide capability, providing funding for essential training and equipment.
  • In my home state of Alaska, we have used homeland security grant funding to dramatically improve interoperable communications, improve resilience and reduce vulnerability of critical infrastructure and the provision of essential services, measurably increase our capabilities and capacities for medical surge and mass casualties resulting from any disaster, and ensure continuity of government and industry under all conditions.

While federal investment in building and sustaining state and local capabilities has clearly improved the incident readiness posture of communities nationwide, a systematic process to determine both the qualitative and quantitative value of federal investments against preparedness priorities and capability gaps has not existed.  A survey of state homeland security advisors would likely provide a long list of how preparedness grants have improved capabilities at the local, state, and regional levels.  These represent important stories to tell, but only serve to indicate the value of these programs in the context of specific incidents.  Such anecdotes do not serve as a means to link investments to national preparedness priorities or measure progress in filling capability gaps over time.

When the current grant program structure was created, the primary purpose was to improve state and local capabilities to prepare for and respond to the emerging terrorist threat after September 11, 2001.  Post-Hurricane Katrina, the focus of these grant programs was expanded to include an all-hazards approach to community preparedness to meet the challenges of both terrorist events and natural disasters.  As the list of potential threats and hazards expanded, so too did the interpretation of how and where funding should be prioritized.  Corresponding statutory changes, such as the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 and the Implementing the Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, attempted to streamline these programs and address performance measurement. While these laws improved certain processes, they also added complexity and increased administrative burdens at the state and local level.

Grant Reform Will Support Performance Measurement

Performance measurement of the preparedness grant program must be conducted as part of a broader package of reform to address current inefficiencies and administrative burdens that inhibit the most effective use of grant funds.  The preparedness grants system should be streamlined and based on flexibility and accountability.  Such reform will help ensure the most effective use of funds, and facilitate performance measurement by more clearly focusing efforts on those of greatest importance.

The current and continuing fiscal condition of our nation requires us to invest every dollar more wisely than ever before.  Federal funding for homeland security grant programs has decreased by more than 75 percent since the program’s inception in 2003, yet the structure remains unchanged.  The current suite of 18 separate preparedness grant programs discourages collaboration across jurisdictions and limits the ability to sustain core capabilities and address emerging threats such as cybersecurity.  Grant allocation should be primarily risk-based and address the most urgent gaps in local, state, and regional capabilities.

In recent years, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has reported on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) inability to provide a framework to effectively measure grant performance.  The lack of a viable set of grant metrics, however, cannot be considered in a vacuum absent broader evaluation of the current grants framework as a whole.  GAO consistently identifies areas of duplication and redundancy among the various preparedness grant programs.  Grantees at the state and local level have echoed those concerns, pointing out overlapping reporting requirements, burdensome administrative processes, constantly evolving federal grants guidance, and tight turnarounds on document submission.

The multitude of grant programs and administrative requirements of the current structure has limited the effectiveness of past performance measurement efforts.   In part, this is why previous attempts to measure grant effectiveness have failed.  Early FEMA initiatives to provide tools and a common methodology for grant performance such as the Cost-to-Capability (C2C) initiative demonstrated early promise, but significant challenges emerged in subsequent pilot programs. While C2C initiated a broader discussion of capability measurement, ultimately the program did not provide adequate, measureable, and independent tools and guidelines to properly allocate grant funding.  The C2C methodology failed to unify preparedness efforts across jurisdictions and fell short of providing a common, standard operating picture that is critical for a truly “national” system.

Ideas for Improvement

FEMA released the National Preparedness Report (NPR) in early 2012 as part of the new National Preparedness System (NPS) required by Presidential Policy Directive 8.  The NPR intends to provide a comprehensive analysis of efforts to build, sustain, and deliver capabilities from the local level through the regional level — helping establish national priorities for the future. While the NPR is still in its infancy, many states find preparing their corresponding State Preparedness Report (SPR) useful.  Some have raised questions, however, regarding the reporting process’s link between threat analysis at the state and local level and the broader assessment of preparedness across the entire nation.

Many of these concerns should be addressed with FEMA’s most recent grant-related initiative — the Threat, Hazard Identification, and Risk Assessment process, or THIRA.  Combined with the SPR, this process should enable a means by which capability strengths and weaknesses, mutual aid opportunities, and key threats can all be evaluated based on risk and gaps identified at all levels of government.  By their very nature, all threats and hazards are variable.  The THIRA can enable a standardized problem solving approach to preparedness which considers complexity and interdependencies.  If simply placed atop the current grants structure, states are likely to continue facing significant challenges to fully integrate the THIRA into disaster planning and identify areas of need for federal investment as intended.  To further improve the THIRA/SPR process, states encourage FEMA to consider the following recommendations:

  • Value local decision-making and national assessment:  An examination of preparedness must not consist solely of broad goals and priorities, but must also form the basis for action.  FEMA should improve the SPR and THIRA process to ensure they provide value to states and local governments. States must be able to fully integrate core capabilities thoughtfully and systematically into their planning, analysis, and assessment processes.
  • Ensure realistic timelines and foster a culture of collaboration:  The THIRA guidance for 2012 was released in September and due to FEMA in December of the same year.  Such a tight turnaround did not provide enough time for adequate communication and engagement between state and local governments.  This situation becomes exacerbated over subsequent years as the guidance for 2013 has yet to be released.
  • Integrate state and local innovation into the National Preparedness System:  The federal government should leverage state and local innovation in methods, approaches, and products.  FEMA should increase its collaboration on the implementation of the NPS with state and local stakeholders and serve as a resource on best practices.  The emphasis should be on achieving the ability to prepare for and respond to events of extreme complexity based either on size, duration, or consequence.
  • Provide consistency and support long-term planning: Future federal guidance should seek to improve, but not replace, the THIRA and SPR processes.  A continuing criticism of FEMA’s management of the preparedness grant program is constantly changing guidance and reporting requirements.  In only the second year, states are just beginning to use and understand the THIRA process.  While FEMA continues to address concerns and challenges to integrate the various parts of the NPS, states are generally willing to give the NPS the benefit of the doubt in the near term — as long as it remains a part of broader restructuring and consolidation of FEMA grant programs.

A Path Forward

Given the current fiscal environment, establishing a demonstrated methodology for measuring grant performance has never been more urgent.  The National Preparedness Grant Program (NPGP) proposed by FEMA is a good first step to addressing many of the challenges with the current suite of grant programs.  While not endorsing the NPGP, both NGA and NEMA recently sent a letter to Chairman Thomas Carper and Doctor Tom Coburn to show appreciation of the proposal and offer support for comprehensive grant reform.  These letters have been submitted with this testimony for the record. While states continue to have questions and concerns with the NPGP, we remain encouraged to see a proposal providing a forward-thinking process by which grants become more measureable, accountable, and flexible to the states.

Any new grant framework should have consistent methods to measure or assess progress in achieving core capabilities.  Measurement in a new grant construct could be realized through a four-step process:

  • Ensure continuous assessment of risk across all levels of government: Threat assessment, such as THIRA, must be conducted independent of funding allocations in order to adequately assess the current risk and hazards of a locality, state, and region.  This must be a continuous, iterative process and not a yearly snapshot simply for reporting purposes.
  • Encourage strategic plans versus spending plans: The planning process must be shifted to focus on setting and achieving strategic goals under changing and uncertain conditions. This is unlike the current system where funding allocations are determined prior to planning.
  • Base funding allocations on priority needs: Funding allocations from the federal government should be focused on investments that will fill the most pressing capability gaps identified in the state and regional THIRA and SPR.
  • Measure progress to fill capability gaps: The above three steps allow for an effective and meaningful measurement process.  As priorities in the state plans are funded, measureable gaps can be identified, addressed and reported back to FEMA and Congress.

Conclusion

When first conceived, the suite of homeland security grants provided a solution for pressing and immediate needs to address capability gaps in the wake of September 11.  Over the past decade, these programs have strengthened the nation’s ability to detect and prevent terrorist attacks and respond to a range of other incidents.  Despite this progress, recent events such as the West, Texas explosion, Oklahoma tornadoes, Boston Marathon bombing, and Hurricane Sandy remind us the threats to our communities continually evolve.

Confronting the dynamic threats of today requires a new construct and a new approach that will unify homeland security partners and be adaptable to uncertainty.  Efforts must be integrated to improve agility in confronting threats to the homeland whether natural, technological, or manmade.  The nation must effectively build and strengthen capabilities against a range of threats, reduce the consequences of many hazards, and thus reduce the risks to our communities.  These goals can only be accomplished, however, when the barriers and stovepipes limiting flexibility and innovation are removed.  The restructuring and streamlining of the federal homeland security grant programs is a national priority and must be designed with measurement in mind.

The National Governors Association and NEMA have each offered a set of principles and values to inform grant reform efforts.  They include:

  • improving flexibility;
  • expanding accountability;
  • developing performance metrics;
  • supporting a skilled cadre of personnel; and
  • reaffirming the partnership between federal, state, and local parties.

We encourage our federal partners in FEMA to join the states, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector in better focusing the current patchwork of programs into a streamlined and focused national system.  Without addressing these issues in the near term, we risk continuing the failed practices of the past.  We offer our experience, insight, and innovation to serve this national need.

Again, I thank you for the opportunity to testify today and look forward to your questions.

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