FEMA urged to improve grants management

Officials acknowledge the need to do better in this area, as well as in contracting; director points to progress in hiring.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Homeland Security Department's emergency preparedness division need to improve oversight and management of grants, lawmakers told agency officials Wednesday.

The calls for improvement come about a month before FEMA is slated to receive more responsibility for distributing grants. Matt Jadacki, DHS deputy inspector general for disaster assistance oversight, said FEMA "historically has had significant problems tracking, monitoring and closing mission assignments."

"FEMA faces a significant challenge in management/oversight of its disaster assistance grant program as well as the DHS grants programs that will become a part of FEMA on April 1," Jadacki told members at a joint hearing held by the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response, and the Subcommittee on Management, Investigations and Oversight.

He said about 2,700 grants, worth about $8.7 billion, have been executed for Hurricane Katrina alone. The DHS inspector general continues to conduct reviews of those grants, he said.

Jadacki also told the subcommittees that FEMA has weaknesses in acquisition and planning and that "insufficient numbers of acquisition personnel" hindered its contract management in response to Katrina. DHS and FEMA officials acknowledged that more needs to be done to strengthen contract management and oversight.

DHS Undersecretary for Preparedness George Foresman said grants and contract management programs continue to be fine-tuned.

Still, FEMA Director R. David Paulison said, the agency is on the verge of filling out each of 10 regional director positions for "the first time in anybody's memory." He said he is aiming for "a strong mix of career people in this organization," including at the procurement office. Career employees are "the ones who understand what's really happening" at the agency, he added.

Earlier this month, Paulison said FEMA's hiring has steadily increased since he became the agency's director. In the months immediately following Hurricane Katrina, FEMA had difficulty in this area.

Lawmakers also criticized the placement of the US-VISIT program, which gathers information on foreigners entering and exiting the United States, within DHS' National Protection and Programs Directorate. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., called this structure puzzling, as the program is lumped together with cybersecurity and chemical plant protection initiatives.

Several lawmakers said DHS officials must complete the US-VISIT program so that it is capable of verifying visitors' departures, as well as their entrances.

"You have to finish the exit side of this," said Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo.

Foresman acknowledged that the program's departure confirmation component needs to be completed.