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Homeland Security Fusion Center Grant Money Not Always Tracked, GAO Finds

Multi-agency participation in spending complicates results reporting.

At a time when domestic terrorism, natural disasters and general crime require a coordinated multi-agency response, the regional fusion centers established under the Homeland Security Department continue bumping into obstacles to accurately tracking grant money awarded to diverse organizations nationwide, a watchdog found.

Though the department’s Federal Emergency Management Agency has shown progress in implementing 45 performance measures of results in grants going to projects ranging from law enforcement to intelligence gathering, “to date, FEMA has not been able to accurately account for and report on the amount of funds it has provided to centers,” the Government Accountability Office said in a report released Thursday.

“DHS reforms to the Homeland Security Grant Program are helping to ensure that grant funds intended for fusion centers are used to build or sustain baseline capabilities,” GAO wrote to the House and Senate Homeland Security panels, “but DHS cannot accurately account for federal funds provided to states to support these centers.”

DHS scores highly—92 out of 100 during 2013-- in its general annual assessments of the 78 fusion centers’ ability to receive, analyze, and disseminate threat information, GAO noted. But a review of data provided to GAO for 2012 showed that FEMA had determined that states inaccurately categorized about $60 million in projects.

Some 288 federal employees are deployed to fusion centers, which also house state and local law enforcement, FBI and DHS’ own Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff, and Customs and Border Protection personnel.

The two agencies that provide the most support to fusion centers—the FBI and DHS' Office of Intelligence and Analysis-- have developed nationwide guidance to help these agencies make fusion center support decisions and generally identified key roles and responsibilities for personnel deployed to centers,” GAO noted. But CBP and ICE “have not developed such guidance and generally defer to field-level management to make deployment decisions,” though such guidance is reported to be in the works.

GAO recommended that FEMA develop a mechanism to verify that states act in accordance with proposed guidance, when implemented, “to help ensure that data on fusion center projects are sufficiently accurate to provide a reliable accounting of the total amount of federal grant funding provided to centers.”

Homeland Security agreed to a draft of the recommendations.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, praised DHS for developing the assessments of fusion center capabilities and its recent high performance score. “However, it is clear that there is still work to be done,” he said in a statement. “The department must get a program off the ground to better test and evaluate fusion centers’ performance so that we can see how effective they would be in the event of an emergency. It also needs to put into place a better method of tracking funding so we can better assess how much the federal government spends to keep these critical centers operational without wasting taxpayer dollars.”

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