With pressure being put on federal and state budgets, more recently, the disaster and mitigation grant reimbursement process has come under much greater scrutiny. This has resulted in more stringent federal oversight of grant and contract reimbursement programs. It is critical that recipients of PA and HMGP funds meet the demands of increased oversight. The DHS-OIG will continue to scrutinize projects. Many local governments have been the target of recent audits. In 2011 alone over $300 million in costs were questioned due to compliance and eligibility issues which may result in a return of funds.
After reading the December 2014 GAO report about FEMA’s ability to strengthen oversight of administrative costs for major disasters, I once again confirmed previous thoughts on the matter when it comes to administrative cost over runs. Having worked in disaster response and recovery since Floyd hit the North Carolina coast in 1999, I don’t think anyone would argue that FEMA has undergone many changes when it comes to field and administrative applications, in order to find ways to better perform its role. Sometimes the path taken isn’t clearly understood as it should be or the results attained are satisfactory as many would like but I’m sure the motives were always in the best interest of the citizenry and FEMA’s attempt to improve efficiencies.
The growth in major disaster declarations has led to increased federal expenditures, primarily associated with administrative costs. During the 10 fiscal years from 2004 through 2013, Presidents declared 32% more major disasters than in the preceding 10 fiscal years. An interesting note to consider; FEMA was rolled up as a component of the Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003. Prior to 2003, FEMA was a stand-alone agency originally established as such under the Carter administration in 1979.
Of course there are a lot of moving parts when a disaster is declared. During the response and recovery phase a myriad of organizations are mobilized, needed and represented to include; the State (applicant), the applicants own emergency response experts, the affected entities within the state who incurred the disaster damage to their property (sub-grantees), many of which also have their own representative experts, volunteer groups active in the disaster (VOADs), FEMA employees (a combination of full time cadre supported by rotating groups of reservists), technical assistance contractors (large prime contractors who supply specialized disciplines), the sub-grantee’s experts who help them assess damages, compose repair estimates and advocate during the process (part of direct administrative costs).