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Published: 2008-03-26

Federal Emergency Management Agency Public Assistance Program



FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY

PUBLIC ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

Efficient, Effective, Consistent

PROGRAM DESCRIPTION

OCTOBER 1, 1998

INTRODUCTION

Under the authority of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, Public Law 93-288, as amended and Title 44 of the Code of Federal Regulations, the Public Assistance Program provides supplemental aid to States and communities to help them recover from major disasters as quickly as possible. Specifically, the program provides assistance for removal of debris, the implementation of emergency protective measures, and the permanent restoration of public infrastructure. The program also encourages protection from future damage by providing assistance for mitigation measures during the recovery process.

In keeping with the national initiative to simplify Federal programs and make them customer centered, the Federal Emergency Management Agency under my direction led a review of the Public Assistance Program. Initial findings made it clear that program applicants wanted a simple and more consistently administered grant process. This led to an evaluation and fundamental redesign of the program through the collaborative effort of Federal, State and local emergency management officials.

The redesign process required commitment and coordination by all the partners (Federal, State and local officials) in disaster recovery. They cooperated in a thorough review and evaluation of all aspects of the program and participated in efforts to identify the issues, solve the problems, redesign the delivery system and, finally, test it. We tested various components of the new Public Assistance Program in several disasters (for example, Georgia, Florida, California, Alabama, and Tennessee) during the last six months. Then all components for the redesigned program were pilot tested in Kentucky (DR-1216). The State and local officials who participated in those tests enthusiastically endorsed the new program and the program described herein incorporates the lessons learned from those tests.

The program now provides the basis for improved customer service through a more efficient grant delivery process; applicant-centered management; better information exchange; consistent training and credentialing of staff who administer the program; continuing performance evaluations and program improvements; and more accessible and understandable guidance for participating in the grant program. I believe we have created an efficient, effective and consistent program that is centered on the needs of the applicant.

I have approved the redesigned Public Assistance Program and directed its implementation, effective October 1, 1998.

Signed

James L. Witt, Director

PART 1

THE CHALLENGE

To meet the goals of FEMA's strategic plan and the expectations of FEMA customers, FEMA management faced the challenge of improving the Public Assistance (PA) Program . reducing its processing time and solidifying FEMA's partnership with State and local emergency management officials and grant applicants. To meet the challenge, FEMA redesigned the PA Program around its people, the processes that deliver disaster recovery assistance, its policies, and the performance that is needed to ensure that expectations are realized. The result is a more efficient, effective and consistent program that incorporates four essential elements . people, process, policy and performance.

PEOPLE The most important component of the redesigned PA Program is people. The success of the PA Program depends on all the people involved in the process . both the applicants applying for grants and those responsible for awarding grants. It is their understanding of the provisions of the program and their willingness to work cooperatively in disaster recovery efforts that speed the process and make the redesigned PA Program possible. Therefore, to ensure that our staff has a higher level of professionalism and skill (which will promote consistent program interpretation), FEMA has committed to an ambitious training program, called the Cadre 2000 Initiative. The objective of the program is to credential all staff working with the PA Program by October 1, 2000.

Development of proper training begins with the analyses of all disaster positions and an outline of the tasks associated with each position. Then a program of study for each position is developed which establishes the requirements for satisfactory performance. The program of study may include classroom training, participation in seminars, independent study, mentoring, and on-the-job training. The credentialing plans for the Public Assistance Officer, the Public Assistance Coordinator, and the Project Officer are effective with the October 1, 1998 implementation of the program. The remaining credentialing plans will be completed in fiscal year 1999.

The envisioned training and credentialing program are a significant shift from current education programs that focus on resident classroom delivery. More emphasis is placed on individualized instruction and independent study. As the program evolves and reaches final operational capability, more focus will be on evaluating the technical expertise of personnel, ensuring that appropriate job assignments are made. Full realization of the new training and credentialing program will be a long-range task. However, the development of a credentialing plan for each position begins the process of providing efficient, effective, and consistent decision making as personnel are trained in their new roles and receive credentials for expanded responsibilities.

PROCESS The PA Program is based on a partnership of FEMA, State and local officials. FEMA is committed to enhancing this partnership through improved communication, training and information exchange. The roles and responsibilities of FEMA, State and local governments and private nonprofit organizations are being more clearly defined and responsibilities are more flexibly based on the capabilities of the State and local partners .

FEMA FEMA.s role is changing from inspection and enforcement to customer service and assistance. In this role, FEMA will provide more information about the program in various media before the disaster strikes and more technical assistance in the development of damage descriptions and cost estimates after the disaster.

State The State's role as Grantee is largely unchanged from the existing program and the State's financial responsibilities are that same. As Grantee, the State still is responsible for administering the federal grant. However, the redesigned PA Program does allow the State flexibility in meeting many of its other responsibilities. For example, there will no longer be a need for a Federal-State-local team to inspect and prepare damage estimates for most small projects since applicants may choose to do their own estimates. FEMA and State officials will meet soon after the declaration to develop a public assistance recovery strategy, which will address FEMA and State staffing plans. FEMA will continue to assist the State, in ways mutually agreed upon, in meeting its responsibilities.

Local The role of local governments and eligible private nonprofit organizations changes with their taking more control in meeting their own needs and managing the pace of their own recovery. Those applicants who can prepare scopes of work and cost estimates for small projects will be allowed to do so, subject to 20% validation by FEMA or the State. FEMA will continue to assist other applicants in preparing their damage descriptions and cost estimates.

POLICY While basic program eligibility criteria do not change with the new PA Program, many changes are required in program documentation. This new documentation promotes consistent policy implementation and provides the foundation for training professional staff. The new documentation provides for:

  • clarification and simplification of program policies,
  • creation of new, clear, and simple documents to meet evolving needs,
  • greater reliance on written documentation of policies, and
  • increased multi-media availability of program documentation to everyone involved in the PA Program, providing a reference for training, self-instruction, and consistent policy implementation.

The new program does not require changes to the Stafford Act. However, FEMA will monitor the need for statutory change and will propose changes if required to meet program performance goals.

PERFORMANCE People, policies, and processes form the foundation for PA Program performance.

FEMA has identified performance measures to evaluate people and process, ensuring continuous program improvement and compliance with the government Performance and Results Act of 1993. The 1998 customer satisfaction survey provided baseline information on customer expectations and assessments of FEMA performance. We will conduct additional surveys after each disaster and will revise the program as required to better meet customer needs.

PART 2

THE PROGRAM

As described in Part 1 of this Program Description, the PA Program has been revised to provide customers with more efficient, effective, and consistent delivery of program assistance. This has been accomplished by:

  • enhancing internal educational programs,
  • clearly defining FEMA, State, and local roles and responsibilities,
  • strengthening the FEMA, State, and local partnership,
  • providing accurate information and guidance to customers, and
  • establishing performance standards and conducting customer satisfaction surveys.

Major components of the redesigned PA program include: education of applicants, enhanced preliminary damage assessments, small projects formulated by applicants, small project validation by FEMA or State, case management files, improved grants management and clear description of the State.s role in the process. Initial operating capability has been achieved. The orderly and phased implementation of the program will lead to full operating capability by October 1, 2000.

EDUCATION OF APPLICANTS

Ensuring that applicants for public assistance understand eligibility requirements, the types of assistance available, and specific policies and procedures is an important first step in ensuring smooth, speedy and effective delivery of assistance. Under the redesigned PA Program, FEMA will provide educational materials in a variety of forms and delivery methods in an effort to educate applicants whenever possible, either before or after a disaster occurs. FEMA has developed a 1-day training module on Public Assistance eligibility criteria and procedures for applicants. The module is centered on the responsibilities of the applicant and can be conducted by FEMA, State or local staffs. The organization-wide web site has been enhanced to include clearly marked areas for PA Program information and the FEMA fax-on-demand system will be expanded to include PA Program guidelines, bulletins, application documents, and other pertinent publications. Increased training activities, such as workshops and independent study also will be utilized.

Education is a continuous process that requires applicant self-service. The FEMA web site and hands-on training activities and tools give applicants the opportunity to gather information and educate themselves at regular intervals before a disaster and again during periods of high risk. When disaster strikes, applicants will be able to attend a standardized briefing that provides general information on the program and specific disaster-related policies and procedures. The combination of education initiatives will enable applicants to understand and perform their role more efficiently, reduce misunderstanding that could lead to appeals, and reduce re-work by ensuring that tasks are completed correctly the first time. This educational concept also provides a consistent means of informing applicants across the nation about the program.

PRELIMINARY DAMAGE ASSESSMENT

FEMA will continue to use the Preliminary Damage Assessments (PDA) process to verify that a disaster exceeds the response capabilities of the State and local governments, and to ascertain if supplemental Federal assistance is required. Under the redesigned PA Program, this function will be broadened to take full advantage of digital communications and to include:

  • identification of potential issues that could affect program delivery, such as insurance, environmental, or historic preservation concerns, and
  • identification of potential hazard mitigation opportunities.

This data collection allows for better preparation of responders prior to their deployment. In addition, the PDA data forms the foundation for immediate funding for emergency work in the communities hardest hit by the disaster. This Immediate Needs Funding, up to 50% of the Federal share of the PDA estimates for emergency work (categories A & B), provides funds necessary for applicants to continue recovery activities without the burden of extensive documentation and review during the peak of crisis operations. Eventually, of course, accounts must be balanced.

PROJECT FORMULATION

Getting Started This process is initiated when an applicant submits a Request for Public Assistance. Typically, the request form can be submitted at the Applicant.s Briefing, but may be submitted up to 30 days after the designation of a county for public assistance. In a subsequent phase of program implementation, applicants will be able to submit these applications electronically.

As requests are submitted, applicants are assigned to a program expert called a Public Assistance Coordinator who will serve as their customer service representative on PA Program matters and who will manage the processing of all of the applicant's recovery projects. This program expert personally:

  • works with the applicant to identify needs, problems and potential funding issues,
  • secures the appropriate resources to assist the applicant in completing the project worksheets,
  • tracks the applicant's projects as they are processed, and
  • ensures consistent, equitable, efficient and effective delivery of the program.

The Public Assistance Coordinator has the authority to approve projects up to $100,000. This moves decision-making closer to the applicants and eliminates the need for multiple reviews at the disaster field office. This will expedite grant processing significantly.

The Kick-off Meeting Within one week of FEMA.s receipt of the request form, the Public Assistance Coordinator in conjunction with a State counterpart will contact the applicant to set up a Kick-off Meeting. This meeting differs from the traditional Applicants. Briefing conducted by the State at the onset of disaster operations. The Applicant.s Briefing is conducted by the governor.s authorized representative for all potential applicants and provides specific information related to the disaster declaration and an overview of the PA Program procedures. The Kick-off Meeting, on the other hand, provides a much more detailed review of the program as it applies to a specific applicant. In focusing on the individual needs of a single applicant, this approach allows the Public Assistance Coordinator to concentrate on the eligibility and documentation requirements that are most pertinent to that applicant. The Public Assistance Coordinator also will address issues, such as insurance, environmental protection, historic preservation, and hazard mitigation opportunities that potentially may affect the type and amount of assistance available and the documentation needed. Project formulation is the whole process of identifying the eligible scope of work and estimating the costs associated with that scope of work so that the grant can be speedily awarded and recovery can be completed.

Establishing the Amount of the Grant To add momentum to the recovery, each applicant must submit a list of potential small and large projects to the Public Assistance Coordinator at the Kick-off Meeting. Applicants must submit detailed project worksheets for small projects to FEMA within 30 days of the Kick-off Meeting. The type and amount of information required for each project worksheet depends on whether a project is small or large. This differentiation is made to expedite project review, approval, and funding. Small projects are those projects with a total estimated cost below $47,800 (FY 99), and large projects are those projects with a total estimated cost above this threshold. The threshold is adjusted each fiscal year to account for inflation. The Grantees and Subgrantees will continue to receive the traditional allowances for administering the grants.

Estimating Small Projects The applicant has the opportunity to describe and estimate the cost of repairing the disaster damage to small projects. Small project worksheets include the location, damage description and dimensions, scope of work, and cost estimate for each project. Environmental, historic, insurance, and hazard mitigation issues must also be addressed on the project worksheet. If necessary, trained disaster recovery personnel will assist applicants in preparing project worksheets. A project is no longer limited to damages at one site. Instead, applicants will have the option of combining several sites into one project thereby organizing project management around their own administrative system and recovery needs and reducing the number of documents related to their recovery funding.

Once an applicant has submitted completed project worksheets, FEMA or the State will verify documentation on a portion of the small projects. Detailed inspections of all project sites are no longer required. Rather, disaster recovery personnel will meet with applicants to review supporting project documentation (such as labor, equipment, and materials records or contracts), ensure accuracy in the application of program eligibility, and certify the reasonableness of costs. This is called "validation."

Typically, 20% of an applicant.s small projects will be validated unless the review shows that the validation sample does not meet the validation criteria. If the sample does not meet the criteria, another sample will be validated. Once validation is complete and any concerns have been addressed, small projects will be funded. If the applicant moves expeditiously, this method dramatically streamlines processing and speeds payment to the applicant.

Estimating Large Projects The Public Assistance Coordinator will work with the applicant and technical specialists to develop the scope of work and cost estimate for each large project. FEMA's commitment is that these technical specialists will have the training and experience appropriate for the damaged project. FEMA will obligate funds for large projects based on the estimates. The State may incrementally disburse funds as the applicant completes components of the work.

Due to the size and complexity of many large projects, construction can take from several months to several years to complete. For this reason, large projects are initially approved based on estimated costs. When all work associated with the project is complete, a final reconciliation of actual costs is performed. The accuracy of the cost estimate is important for construction planning, budgeting and management. Because of its importance, estimates are developed by technical specialists using a professional cost estimating methodology. The cost estimating methodology uses standard construction industry practices and includes: labor, materials, equipment, project design and management, contractor overhead and profit, escalation due to inflation, and other factors that can increase project costs significantly over long construction periods.

By including all construction costs with the base cost, a more accurate estimate of total project costs is determined before work is begun. This improves the quality of Federal disaster budgeting and decreases the need for multiple supplemental obligations, in turn lowering administrative costs and freeing disaster personnel for deployment to other disasters.

Using the Case Management File The case management file describes how data is stored in our electronic database. In ADAMS, data was centered around the damaged site. If we knew a damage survey report number, it was possible to retrieve information displayed on that document. We could not easily access detailed information about the project from a single source, nor could we easily determine the status of all the applicant.s projects. In the redesigned PA Program, information in the database (NEMIS version 1) is centered around the applicant. Information on meetings, phone calls, contentious issues, status of special consideration reviews as well as other information are contained in the same database for easy retrieval. This allows us to be more responsive to customers, both internal and external.

Special Considerations Special considerations is the term used to describe issues related to statutes such as National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Historic Preservation Act, and the Endangered Species Act; insurance; and, hazard mitigation. The early identification of these issues allows more time for resolution without delaying the provision of assistance needed for recovery. Under the redesigned PA Program, questions about special considerations are raised early and often throughout the process . from preliminary damage assessment to project validation. We are also developing ways to expedite resolution of issues after they have been identified. For example, we have identified a list of actions that are statutorily and categorically excluded from NEPA review; we are developing a programmatic agreement that will accelerate the review of historic properties; and, we have identified a list of projects that we have determined to be cost-effective hazard mitigation opportunities. This last innovation removes the requirement to prepare benefit cost analyses that could delay the processing of project.

GRANTS MANAGEMENT AND CLOSEOUT

The PA Program will be considered "closed" when all projects have been described and approved, appeals have been resolved, and funds have been obligated. This phase of the PA Program will end when there is a well-defined understanding of the total amount of Federal funds that will be obligated for the disaster.

Financial reconciliation of the grant occurs later, when FEMA and the State reach agreement that all applicable administrative actions related to the grant are complete and all program funds have been reconciled. At that point, all PA Program projects have been completed, the State has awarded all grant funds and submitted its final expenditure report to FEMA, and FEMA has adjusted the funding level for the program.

The improved grants management component of the redesigned PA Program is founded on more cooperation among internal FEMA offices and the sharing of more information among all the partners. Standard statements that outline the Federal-State-local partners. grant management responsibilities have been developed and will be incorporated into the FEMA-State Agreement. These responsibilities will include providing FEMA with quarterly progress reports on the status of the grant and certification when all work has been completed. The new NEMIS system will allow electronic transfer of data to State data systems that will increase the efficiency of State administrative processes. The new program allows electronic tracking of funds from obligation through final financial reconciliation and for quarterly reconciliation of PA Program and Office of Financial Management databases. The improved grants management procedures will allow FEMA to prepare better budgets for disaster operations.

PART 3

THE FUTURE

Our top priorities during the next two years are to continue to simplify and communicate program policies; to continue our training and credentialing program to ensure that our staff is as prepared as possible; to develop educational material in forms that are accessible to our customers; to enhance NEMIS version I to better reflect the redesigned PA Program processes; and, to further improve the efficiency, effectiveness and consistency of program delivery.

Updated: October 27, 1998