Lawmakers, State Officials Say FEMA's Homeland Security Grant Evaluation Tool Flawed

By Matthew Harwood

Lawmakers and state officials today criticized an assessment tool that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) created to measure the return on investment from homeland security grants provided to states for preparedness. Both lawmakers and state officials described FEMA's Cost-to-Capabilities (C2C) initiative as seriously flawed during a House homeland security subcommittee hearing.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) said that it was time for FEMA chief W. Craig Fugate to decide whether the tool could be salvaged or should be scrapped before taxpayers wasted millions more developing C2C further.

The C2C assessment was developed by FEMA's Grant Programs Directorate (GPD) to evaluate how well homeland security grants translate into improved state and national preparedness. Since fiscal year 2002, Congress has appropriated $29 billion in homeland security grants, not including the $4 billion Congress recently appropriated for fiscal year 2010.

"C2C's objective is to identify the information and develop the tools needed to effectively manage GPD's homeland security and preparedness grant programs," FEMA's Timothy W. Manning, deputy administrator for national preparedness, told lawmakers. "With the tools and measurements generated by the C2C initiative, we hope that grantees will be able to maximize their local preparedness investment strategies and align grant dollars with the nation's homeland security priorities."

The problem, however, is that lawmakers and state homeland security officials are not convinced that C2C does what it claims.

"While a good effort," Thompson said, "C2C simply does not do what it is supposed to do, which is help states and urban areas objectively capture how homeland security grants are improving their preparedness capabilities."

The testimony of David Maxwell, director and homeland security advisor for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, confirmed Thompson's description. Maxwell told lawmakers that his staff traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in a C2C pilot program in July and then returned to Arkansas to use the tool with the state's grant data. He was not impressed.

Maxwell said "the tool requires a subjective judgment of our base capabilities and, perhaps more importantly, how much an investment has increased a capability." 

He also told lawmakers that he doesn't want the C2C tool to be used as a report card to publish Arkansas' preparedness efforts. "Arkansas is committed to the openness of our business practices but the potential exists to highlight perceived weaknesses in our preparedness efforts and this only gives terrorists an additional area to exploit."

Subcommittee Chairman Henry Cuellar (D-TX) explained that the C2C didn't take into account which states were more susceptible to disasters and terrorist attacks.

"Without taking into account risk," he said, "C2C cannot lead to the effective distribution of homeland security grants."

One state homeland security witness did seem optimistic about the C2C. Kathy B. Crandall—director of homeland security and justice programs for the Columbus, Ohio, urban area—said the tool "supports the states and urban areas in maximizing the development, funding, and implementation of preparedness projects."

Crandall, however, agreed with Cuellar's criticism and said FEMA should modify the system to account for threats specific to each state and urban area.

FEMA was also criticized during the hearing for its recent decision to limit the use of preparedness grants to keep homeland security equipment operational.

Maxwell seemed bewildered by the decision.

"If we truly want to be effective, efficient, and prudent with our grant dollars, we cannot be forced to purchase new, replacement equipment solely because we are not allowed to spend money to keep our current equipment in working order," he said.

Maxwell explained that if Arkansas' local jurisdictions had to pay for sustainment costs out of its own pockets, for say expensive bomb handling equipment, maintenance costs would overwhelm local budgets.

Crandall told the subcommittee that she contacted the National Association of Counties to get their opinion on the policy change and the organization said it would harm every county in the country.

Cuellar said that the agency never briefed his committee on its policy decision and believes the policy "clearly violates the 9-11 Act."

Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH) recently introduced legislation that explicitly allows states to use homeland security grants to pay for equipment maintenance and sustainment costs.

“I refuse to watch the safety of my constituents get put on the chopping block," Kilroy said in a statement. "The SURE Act will overturn FEMA’s policy and ensure our first responders have the tools they need to address our nation’s 21st century security challenges.”

Both Thompson and Cuellar are cosponsors of Kilroy's SURE Act.

♦ Photo of  FEMA's Timothy W. Manning, deputy administrator for national preparedness, before the Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness, and Response on Oct. 27, 2009, courtesy of FEMA.

♦ This report was written based off of witness statements for the record found here.

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