A top FEMA official admitted to a House panel that his agency has no way to assess the effectiveness of homeland security improvements made from the $29 billion spent since 2002.
Timothy Manning, deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told the House Homeland Security Emergency Communications Subcommittee Tuesday that his organization spent $5 million during the past 18 months reviewing how it spent the original $29 billion the federal government provided, the Washington Examiner reported.
Manning insisted that the expenditures have made the nation better prepared for a terrorist attack, but he wasn’t able to say exactly how.
“Existing data tells us very little about our return on investment," Manning testified before frustrated committee members.
The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, scoffed, “For $5 million, I think we can do better."
Manning said the $5 million review that FEMA performed confirmed that FEMA and other Homeland Security divisions “had never asked grant recipients to measure the benefits of the funding,” according to Congress Daily.
"It still seems to be a work in progress," Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said of FEMA's response to a congressional mandate three years ago to develop a comprehensive system to measure emergency response programs.
Thompson, who described the review system as seriously flawed, said it is time for FEMA to decide whether to scrap the initiative before more taxpayer money is wasted.
"While a good effort," Thompson said, the program "simply does not do what it is supposed to do, which is help states and urban areas objectively capture how homeland security grants are improving their preparedness capabilities."
The program cannot distribute money effectively without taking risk into account, he said.
David Maxwell, director and homeland security adviser for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, confirmed Thompson’s assessment and told lawmakers “the tool requires a subjective judgment of our base capabilities and, perhaps more importantly, how much an investment has increased a capability."
Thompson and Cuellar also took Manning to task for a FEMA policy shift last month barring the use of new funding to maintain equipment acquired with old grants, leaving state and local funding applicants in a difficult position.
"If you keep moving the ball, can you imagine what our state and local governments are going through?" Thompson said.
He and others warned Manning that the committee is on course to approve legislation sponsored by Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, D-Ohio, that would reverse FEMA’s policy shift.
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