I’ve recently spent several months assisting four communities recover from the effects of Hurricane Irma. For Irma, FEMA has followed its “Re-Engineered” Public Assistance (PA) process and while the law, policy, regulations, and eligibility criteria haven’t changed, the new PA process, roles, responsibilities, tools, and templates have.
These changes, which FEMA has now committed to, will have tremendous implications for those applying for Public Assistance grants. To complicate matters even more, the Department of Homeland Security has now adopted 2 C.F.R. Part 200 as well. A true “double whammy” to those applying for the FEMA Public Assistance program. As a result, this paper will be broken down into three parts so it may properly address some of the major changes applicants face and why it’s more important than ever to have an experienced recovery professional guide the applicant through a FEMA Public Assistance recovery. Part I – Background:The PA program is FEMA’s means of providing federal disaster assistance to state, local, tribal and territorial governments, and certain private non-profit (PNP) organizations.
The PA program is meant to assist qualified applicants in recouping costs incurred from the clean-up, repair, and rebuilding of public infrastructure, as well as certain expenses incurred from emergency protective measures. FEMA averages $4.7 billion annually providing federal disaster assistance to such communities and it’s been clear for some time that the program was not meeting the needs of its program applicants.As seen in the image to the left from the December 7, 2017, FEMA Daily Op’s Brief, FEMA has many disasters underway at any given time. This level of engagement proves to be very expensive so improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of its recovery process is necessary if FEMA wishes to maintain the viability of the Public Assistance program. The new delivery model described in this paper is FEMA’s attempt at doing just that.
Old Model IssuesWhile both the old and new models are focused on inspecting damages and documenting qualified expenses to properly validate the claims, the old FEMA recovery model could have been considered a “Full Service” model. While FEMA was responsible for writing the grant (project worksheet) itself, they were heavily reliant on applicant actions. FEMA actions included – the intake of damage claims, site inspections, writing of the grants, etc… The low level of expertise amongst FEMA personnel, associated with a high turnover rate, and high expense for training, further complicated the PA recovery itself. All these issues created a highly inefficient/expensive recovery process which the Federal government paid for and the new process is meant to avoid.
As evidenced by a Fall 2017 report by CNN (below), the long duration of disaster recovery only compounds the problem.Puerto Rico (Hurricane Maria):Federal staff deployed as of October 12, 2017: 5,200There are roughly 5,200 federal employees assisting recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, a FEMA official said. Eight-thousand Department of Defense personnel and 3,200 National Guard members have also been deployed.Total public assistance grants: $37,005,951.78Total Individual & Households Program dollars approved: $43,258,814.89How long they will stay: YearsTexas (Hurricane Harvey):Federal staff deployed as of October 12, 2017: 3,900Total public assistance grants: $327,886,760.
25Total Individual & Households Program dollars approved: $1,065,882,028.55How long they will stay: YearsFlorida (Hurricane Irma):Federal staff deployed as of October 12, 2017: 3,000Total Individual & Households Program dollars approved: $737,939,690.57How long they will stay: YearsTo reinforce the expense involved, in October, the Miami Herald reported FEMA is hiring temporary positions in Florida and Puerto Rico to assist with Hurricane Irma relief. The shortest position assignments are 120 days, and the longest is two to four years.
Part II – The New FEMA Public Assistance Delivery ModelFEMA began analyzing the delivery of its Public Assistance (PA) program in 2014 and with its new delivery model, FEMA hopes to not only improve the effectiveness of the program itself but also greatly reduce the cost in implementing the program. Four Phases and Data ManagementIn an effort to better control workflow, document retention, and improve decision making, FEMA has created a four-phase recovery process which is greatly dependent upon the utilization of two new tools. The Four Phases The Four phases mentioned below is an attempt to break down the workflow into manageable segments.
It’s very important for current and future PA applicants to fully understand what happens in each phase and the new requirements placed upon them for grant processing. The phases and objectives are mentioned below (details mentioned later in this paper).Phase I – Operational Planning. The Objective of this initial phase is to identify the applicants’ disaster impacts and recovery priorities.
Phase II – Intake Damage and Eligibility AnalysisThe objective of this phase is to capture and document all of the incident-related damages.Phase III – Scoping and CostingThe objective of phase III is to validate work-to-be-completed projects for final processing.Phase IV – ReviewsObjective: Prepare eligible projects for obligationMore detail can be found here on a FEMA Fact SheetData Management – Two New Tools In addition to the new process, FEMA has introduced two new tools as the centerpiece of its workflow and data management. These new tools are known as the Grants Manager and Grants Portal. While FEMA will be the only ones accessing the Grants Manager, applicants will need to identify personnel to learn and work the Grants Portal tool as all documentation and project specifics will need to be uploaded into this tool for FEMA review. PA Grants Manager (FEMA Tool) FEMA will use this tool to track incident related data and to better manage the process itself. Some of the information found in the PA Grants Manager includes:• Recipient and applicant profiles for the assessment of disaster recovery needs• Daily status reports managing progress of PA Program implementation• Request for Public Assistance submission reminders• Notification messages to applicants on the formulation and progress of their projects• Updates to Essential Elements of Information for applicants’ projects• Exporting comprehensive spreadsheets on the PA Program status and progress• Recordation of Exploratory Calls and Recovery Scoping Meetings with applicantsPA Grants Portal (Applicant Tool)The Grants Portal is the applicant’s tool to use to update information, follow workflow, and maintain awareness of project statuses. Some examples of what the PA Grants Portal will be used for includes:• Complete and update profile information• Submit the Request for Public Assistance• Upload required project documentation• Obtain daily oversight of project statuses• Approve workflow items for concurrence/ acknowledgment• Update Essential Elements of Information for projects• Notify the assigned Program Delivery Manager of an applicant’s actions*** It’s important to note that when identifying damages and organizing into projects, the Grants Portal will not allow a project to move forward to the next step until ALL documentation is uploaded.
This causes a major impact on organizing and submitting damages – especially early in recovery when it’s important to get money on the street in a prompt fashion. Applicants and their consultants should discuss how to organize and submit claims and might need to break up projects due to the 100% document requirement in grants portal. Greater detail can be found here on the FEMA Grants Manager / Grants Portal Fact SheetNo More Project Worksheets written by a FEMA Project SpecialistAs mentioned earlier, the old “Full Service” model was mainly executed by FEMA Personnel mainly known as Project Specialists. The Project Specialist was the primary point of contact with applicants and was being responsible for collecting documents, site inspections and writing the project worksheet itself. The new PA model relies heavily on an organization called Consolidated Resource Centers (CRC’s) which are centralized locations where FEMA employs personnel to review information and process grant applications across multiple disasters. FEMA has done this to not only improve the quality of the grant applications themselves – which used to be written by project specialists, but also to have greater control on decisions which used to be made within the Joint Field Office (JFO) by the Project Specialist, PAC, Task Force Lead (TFL) or Public Assistance Group Supervisor (PAGS).
This centralized control is also an effort to hopefully reduce the number of errors found in audits which are conducted years after the disaster occurred. While one might be able to understand FEMA’s desire to control costs and avoid issues, one should also be concerned that the claims and documentation uploaded inside the Grants Portal by an inexperienced person (either the PDGM or an applicant representative) might not properly represent the full extent of the damages or costs incurred by the applicant. This is an important point as assumptions and decisions will be made by the personnel inside the Consolidated Resource Centers when they begin writing/processing the grant applications. Any site visits conducted at damaged sites will be conducted by site inspectors from the JFO who will forward their notes to the CRC’s. While FEMA states there will be increased transparency throughout the process, the fact that grant applications will be reviewed and processed by personnel who’ve never seen the damaged area themselves and are making decisions only from the documentation provided and someone else’s notes should cause great concern for applicants. At an absolute minimum, a Detailed Damage Description (DDD) and Scope of Work (SOW) should be included by the applicants for every claim they make. On Irma, we were first told we weren’t allowed to provide such information but after pushing it, we were told by FEMA that applicant written DDD and SOW’s will be allowed to be entered into the Grants Portal, however, the Consolidated Resource Center will largely depend upon what’s provided by the site inspectors. This is about the best applicants can hope for because at least the applicants will be allowed to represent the damages as they see them and not be solely dependent upon a third party.
Unfortunately, this “decision making by distance” approach made at the Consolidated Resource Centers will lead to many determination meetings between applicants and FEMA. It will not only be important for applicants to have active State involvement but also to have sound policy experts (consultants) to serve as their advocates. Not having such assistance can cause applicants to lose out on major reimbursement of losses which they actually may rate.The Public Assistance Application ProcessAs seen on the right, there are both familiar and new terms in the new delivery model.
However, it’s important to note the changes made in the new PA process go way beyond just new terminology and acronyms. The new PA model places a much larger burden on applicants to perform and to perform much earlier in the recovery process. Gone are the “good ole days” where PA applicants had a FEMA Project Specialist to answer questions, collect documentation, and fill out the project worksheet for them.FEMA Program Delivery Manager (PDGM) – After the Applicant Briefing – which is still considered a state responsibility – and approval of its Request for Public Assistance (RPA), the applicant will be assigned a FEMA Program Delivery Manager (PDGM). The PDGM is tasked with scheduling what is now known as an Exploratory Call to introduce himself/herself to the applicant. The PDGM is tasked with scheduling this call within 7 days of assignment and will begin asking questions in this call to learn more about the damages the applicant experienced from the disaster.
The PDGM is not the Project Specialist or Public Assistance Coordinator (PAC) from the old model. The PDGM will be the applicants sole FEMA contact and is more of a processor of information than a first line manager. FEMA has had great difficulty finding, training, and retaining qualified personnel to perform as PDGM’s in Irma. Also, FEMA has been very late in arriving on the scene in Irma and when they do, it’s with insufficient numbers of poorly qualified PDGM’s. This is a major weakness of the program as the PDGM is the applicant’s primary contact. Having a knowledgeable recovery professional on hand is a must as communities cannot depend on FEMA to provide the type of assistance it has in the past. Not doing so can cost applicants greatly.
Key PDMG responsibilities:• Conduct Meetings• Assist with documentation upload into portal• Grants Portal troubleshooting• Coordinate between FEMA staff, state staff, and the applicant• Request site inspections• Identify and troubleshoot any/all questions or concernsThe Exploratory Call – FEMA considers the Exploratory Call (EC) as the first opportunity to establish a relationship with the Applicant and as such is in Phase I of the new model. FEMA believes this call will set the foundation for the Applicant to have an efficient and successful Public Assistance (PA) experience. FEMA believes the information gathered during this call will enable the Program Delivery Manager (PDMG) to create a tailored agenda for the next step in the process – the Recovery Scoping Meeting (RSM). In actuality, little is tailored. FEMA has created templates for the PDGM to follow for both the EC and RSM so it’s very important the applicant have copies of these checklists prior to each event so they can prepare properly for each.
Objectives of the Exploratory Call1. Introduce the role of a PDMG and explain the Public Assistance (PA) grant program2. Discuss the disaster damages the applicant has identified3.
Introduce the Damage Inventory and emphasize its importancea. Applicant needs to draft the Damage Inventory prior to the RSM4. Discuss documentation needed to support the Applicant’s claims5. Discuss and schedule the RSMa. Allow enough time for the Applicant to draft the Damage Inventoryb. Start early in the day and plan for the meeting to last several hoursc.
Understand objectives of the meetingDamage Inventory Form – The Damage Inventory Form is the template applicants are to list their damages and expenses on. It’s important for the applicant to list it on the form provided because this is the form FEMA will use to upload damages to the Grants Portal.• The Damage Inventory Form is an excel spreadsheet to log all damages• It must be submitted within 60 days of RSM (no change from the previous model)• The form can be updated any time within the 60-day window• Is submitted to the Grants Portal• The system knows when it was submitted!• If you try to upload after the 60-day deadline, it will not work!Recovery Scoping Meeting (RSM) – It’s been said that the RSM is the same as the Kick-Off meeting found in the Traditional PA model, but this isn’t true.
In the old model, the Kick-off meeting served as the initial opportunity for FEMA to meet with the applicant, whereas with the RSM in the new model, FEMA wishes to begin scoping the damages the applicant experienced as early as this meeting. The PDGM is tasked to with scheduling this call within 21 days of the initial call made by the PDGM to the applicant. This desire to scope so early in the process is unreasonable for most and the RSM’s effectiveness has actually been greatly complicated by the inexperience of the new FEMA PDMG’s who are tasked with leading these calls and meetings. Like the Kick-off meeting, applicants will still have 60 days after the Recovery Scoping Meeting to identify and document all incident-related damages.Objectives of the Recovery Scoping Meeting1. Discuss the Damage Inventorya.
Discuss Public Assistance (PA) eligibilityb. Discuss project formulation for work completedc. Discuss logical groupings for sites that require inspectionsd. Discuss special considerations? Environmental Planning and Historic Preservation issues? Insurance requirements? Mitigation opportunities2. Identify relevant documentation required to support the Applicant’s claima.
Review documentation the Applicant has submittedb. Identify additional documentation the Applicant needs to provide and develop the request for Essential Elements of Information using the appropriate Document Checklist3. Schedule Site Inspectionsa. Request Work Orders in PA Grants Managerb. Confirm Applicant’s capability and capacity to participate in site inspections and grant development4. Develop Program Delivery Plana.
Populate a 60-day calendar with follow-up meetings and other relevant deadlinesAs you can see by the objectives listed above, FEMA hopes to begin scoping as soon as possible and it should also be noted that the burden is on the applicant and not on a FEMA project specialist to begin work.Part III – 2 CFR 200Another major change to Applicants is the implementation of Title 2, Part 200 of the Code of Federal Regulations (also known as 2 CFR 200). 2 C.F.R.
is one of fifty titles comprising the United States Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and Part 200 consists of six (6) subparts and eleven (11) separate appendices. It is meant to provide uniform administrative requirements, cost principles and audit requirements for Federal awards and is a major shift from 44 CFR which was oriented towards emergency management and assistance.In December 2014, the Department of Homeland Security adopted 2 C.F.R. Part 200 and now that DHS has done so, these new regulations will apply to all new FEMA grant awards.
The new regulations supersede 44 C.F.R. Part 13, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circulars A-21, A-87, A-89, A-102, A-110, A-122, A-133, and sections of A-50 for all FEMA awards made on or after December 26, 2014.As previous disasters were directed mainly by 44 CFR, which focuses mainly on Emergency Management, the shift to 2 CFR has a much greater emphasis on the legal side.
Going forward, it is imperative for the municipalities attorney to be an integral part of the applicant’s recovery team and should work very closely with the designated procurement officer. Not being compliant with the requirements found in 2 CFR can prove most damaging to an applicant because if a contract wasn’t properly procured, then the work associated with it cannot be considered eligible. Compliance with 2 CFR should be a primary objective in any preparedness efforts.