Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 16, 2009

How To Improve Homeland Security: Fund Equipment Maintenance Through the Homeland Security Grant Program

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on July 16, 2009

Homeland security encompasses more than national level policy, doctrine and talk.  It also includes the impact national decisions have on frontline homeland security professionals.  Today’s post is from one of those professionals.  Sara Diaz is the Emerging Technologies Manager for Special Operations with the San Diego California Fire-Rescue Department. She suggests what can be done to sustain some of the preparedness gains of the past few years.

What one sentence best describes your idea about how to improve homeland security?

Allow a maximum of 5% of Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) awards to be used to purchase maintenance contracts for equipment obtained in previous HSGP funding cycles.

Describe your idea in more depth.

Every year state, tribal, and local agencies prepare HSGP investment justifications outlining projects, training, personnel, and equipment to be used to reduce risk in their jurisdictions and increase target capabilities. The goal of HSGP is to enable agencies outside the federal government to prevent, prepare, respond, and recover from incidents, both natural and man-made.  Each year more and more equipment is purchased to address these requirements.  With the current state of budgets, some agencies cannot sustain the cost of maintaining all of this equipment after initial warranties and maintenance contracts end.

As equipment is used in training, exercises, and actual incidents, it suffers wear and tear.  If equipment is not well maintained, the reliability and overall usable life of the equipment decreases significantly.  It is not a cost effective use of funds to let equipment deteriorate prematurely; doing so perpetuates a perception that items purchased through grants are “disposable.” The purpose of HSGP purchases is to improve capabilities. Proper maintenance is vital to ensuring equipment will function as expected when needed.

Under current grant guidelines, the grantee is responsible for maintaining equipment past the performance period of the grant.  However, if grant recipients were able to use up to 5% percent of their grant awards to maintain equipment previously purchased through HSGP, local agencies would have an option to ensure equipment is in good working order if local funds were not available for sustainment. The decision would be up to the individual agency to determine if they had equipment that would benefit from an extended maintenance contract, in lieu of purchasing additional or replacement equipment. For agencies facing budget shortfalls, this option would be very attractive as they struggle to find ways to cut costs while continuing to provide additional services related to homeland security.

What problem or issue does your idea address?

Some would say that grant recipients are lucky to receive  funds to assist in adopting homeland security strategies within their jurisdictions. Incidents are a local responsibility, and the federal government’s role is to support and augment resources when local governments are depleted. However, from the local perspective, equipment purchased through the grant programs is often specialized.  As stated in program guidelines, it cannot be used to supplant existing operations. The result is equipment often sits in cabinets, used only during exercises, training, and the occasional incident. The reality is, when faced with budget shortfalls, agencies must decide where to cut costs. Deferring maintenance of equipment seldom used is one viable option for local agencies, one that is often selected over cutting core services. However, from the federal perspective, deferring maintenance is wasteful and leads to less prepared communities.

If the idea were to become reality, who would benefit the most, and how?

HSGP recipients would benefit from having well maintained equipment necessary to prepare, prevent, respond and recover from incidents.  Adopting this idea would extend the usable life and overall reliability of the equipment. The federal government would benefit by maximizing its investment, confident that grant recipients will be able to execute target capabilities the grant programs were meant to support.

What are the initial steps needed to get the idea off the ground?

Program guidelines would need to be updated for the fiscal year 2010 HSGP to outline what equipment is eligible (any equipment on register as purchased through an HSGP award) and the allocation guidelines.  Grant recipients would be encouraged to conduct a business case analysis to determine if there is an advantage to using grant awards for equipment maintenance versus other allowable expenditures.

Describe the optimal outcome should your idea be selected and successfully implemented. How would you measure that outcome?

The expected outcome is equipment purchased through grant funds to prepare, prevent, respond, and recover from attacks against our homeland and natural disasters is well maintained and functions as expected when used during exercises, training, and actual incidents. Local agencies hesitant to apply for federal grant funds because they know they cannot afford to sustain new capabilities would be able to participate, resulting in more jurisdictions with increased capabilities, and a better prepared nation.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

July 16, 2009 @ 11:50 am

Sara’s post is welcome and on a very crucial topic. Funding for actual crisis and disaster ops at all levels of government is problematic. Amazing how Hurricanes Andrew (92) and Katrina (2005) and even 9/11 showed up in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year for the feds. One factor that makes FEMA loved by a number of federal agencies is that mission assignments and their overhead costs(determined by negotiation on a case by case basis which is ridiculous)can allow agencies with great legal authority but no funding to do what they should be doing all along (EPA is a great example). And by the way an unresolved legal issue since 1950 that has floated around without resolution is can FEMA legally fund under the STafford Act and it predecessors other department and agency’s programs, functions, and activities for which they have annual appropriations! I tried to get FEMA GC to write OLC on this several times and failed. The problem of course is that one reason even DOD likes FEMA from time to time and covets the President’s Disaster Relief Fund is that it is a no-year appropriation. One of the President’s most flexible authorities and of course the only federal grant program that he/she triggers by Presdiential decision–a declaration of disaster or emergency.

How does this relate to SARA’s post. Well the feds typically do not fund operations or maintenance at the local level so her approach would be a useflu step in the right direction. It just probably does not go far enough. In crisis/disaster management ops in a real world event none of the 8 hour day work shift. All levels need to plan for 24/7 and probably for the first 30 days at least if not longer. FEMA and Congress need to revise the rule that only straigt time is paid and no overtime. This is a ridiculous rule and a waste of time over negotiation when often ignored de facto until the auditors show up and then just postponed until the State cost share eventually forgiven. When the disaster truly overcomes STATE and LOCAL capability then the feds should just fund it all. The cost share has actually cost lives in my opinion so if declared I would have the feds fund all levels for their crisis/disaster operations for first 30 days. Let’s not argue while time is a wasting to save lives and property. Okay that said I have long argued, highlighted by 9/11, that the first response community does have a FEDERAL role (national role?)because the system in its entirety needs to examine closely not “Who is in Charge?” but who or what level is most capable of doing the job! FEMA’s real job comes down as currently constructed to funding and accurate info. It has done little since the early 70’s to streamline either function. FEMA rarely is involved in technical responsse as is EPA, NRC, DOE, and DOD! But hey they usually have NO money to respond.
Sara’s point about daily and on-going maintenance does mean that the feds need to worry about the equipment that will actually be available and how it works. I long have advocated that up to 25% of actal expenditures of the STATE and LOCAL first response community (meaning FIRE SERVICE, POLICE, EMT, HAZMATS, PH etc) be picked up directly in the 300 largest cities as a direct federal cost. That federal share should include funding for crisis/disaster funding and it is silly to argue the subject is so complex this system could not be developed now. With STATE and LOCAL budget restrictions, a federal government that counts on a First Responder community being fully operative needs to pay a contribution. I tried to get this idea into the STIMULUS bill and failed but despite everyone saying another bill won’t be happeneing I think it will with some states above 20% in actual unemployed. Hey why not train those who can be trained for disaster response if other jobs are not available as a condition of federal or STATE unemployment assistance? This would be in addition to the requirement that the unemployed continue to actively seek jobs that don’t exist.

Thanks again SARA for the Post! Important topic.

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 16, 2009 @ 11:57 am

Hey the last sentence in the penultimate paragraph above should have read “Hey but they usually have NO money to respond but FEMA does.”

Hey Phil it would be nice if comments could be automatically spellchecked? Is that possible?

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