Report 2005-118 Summary - September 2006

Emergency Preparedness:

California's Administration of Federal Grants for Homeland Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness Is Hampered by Inefficiencies and Ambiguity

HIGHLIGHTS

Our review of California's administration of federal grants for homeland security and bioterrorism preparedness revealed that:

  • The State's two annual statewide exercises have not sufficiently tested the medical and health response systems.
  • The Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Emergency Services) and the Governor's Office of Homeland Security have been slow in spending federal grant awards for homeland security.
  • Emergency Services is behind schedule in its receipt and review of county and state agency emergency operations plans.
  • The California Department of Health Services has not finalized its plans to conduct on-site reviews of subrecipients.
  • The State's organizational structure for ensuring emergency preparedness is neither streamlined nor well defined.

RESULTS IN BRIEF

Our review of the State's administration of 10 federal grants for homeland security and bioterrorism preparedness revealed several concerns. First, we question whether California's two major statewide, full-scale exercises have sufficiently tested the ability of the State's medical and health systems to respond to emergencies. Without adequate testing California cannot be certain that its medical and health systems can respond to all emergencies. Second, California has been slow in spending federal funds awarded to improve homeland security in the State. As of June 30, 2006, the State had spent only 42 percent of the $954 million in homeland security funds awarded to it from 2001 through 2005. Impediments to quicker spending include the length of time to award allocations to local entities. In one instance nearly 10.5 months passed between the start of the award period and the awarding of the allocations by the Governor's Office of Homeland Security (State Homeland Security). Further, reasons offered by local jurisdictions to explain the slow spending include the State's slow process for reimbursing local jurisdictions for their homeland security expenses and the short time allowed for developing budgets coupled with a time consuming budget revision process.

Another concern regarding the administration of funds for emergency preparedness is that the Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Emergency Services) is behind schedule in its receipt and review of the emergency operations plans for 35 of California's 58 counties and those of 17 of 19 state entities that are key responders during emergencies. Therefore, California has less assurance that these plans will effectively guide the entities in their responses to emergencies.

We also assessed efforts by the State to monitor subrecipients' use of homeland security and bioterrorism preparedness funds. Generally, the State performs the four types of monitoring suggested by federal guidance. However, only State Homeland Security examines subrecipients' use of federal grant funds during on-site reviews. Legislation enacted in 2005 requires the California Department of Health Services (Health Services) to begin reviewing subrecipients' cost reports by January 2007. Planning documents indicate that Health Services intends to perform these reviews on site. Health Services was continuing with its planning efforts as of August 2006.

Moreover, we believe that the State's organizational structure for ensuring emergency preparedness is not streamlined or well defined. Continuing ambiguity surrounds the relationships between Emergency Services and State Homeland Security and among the numerous committees that provide advice or guidance to the three state entities that administer federal grants for homeland security and bioterrorism preparedness. If it remains unchanged, this labyrinthine structure could adversely affect emergency response and reduce the State's efficiency and effectiveness in investing federal grant funds.

In reviewing two other areas related to California's administration of federal grants for homeland security and bioterrorism preparedness—spending priorities and calculating allocation amounts—we found no significant issues. Different entities at the federal, state, and local levels of government have different responsibilities for establishing priorities for spending federal grants issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Regarding the calculation of the funding amounts to allocate to local entities, population typically is a major factor. Most often the calculation begins with a base amount to which the State adds an amount derived from the local entity's population.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To better prepare the State for responding to terrorism events and other emergencies, state entities, including State Homeland Security and Emergency Services, should ensure that future exercises sufficiently test the response capabilities of California's medical and health systems.

To identify steps that could be taken to help increase the pace of spending for federal homeland security grants, State Homeland Security should create a forum for local administrators to share both best practices and concerns with state administrators.

To reduce the amount of time necessary to reimburse local entities for their homeland security expenditures, State Homeland Security and Emergency Services should collaborate to identify steps they can take.

To ensure that the emergency plans of key state entities and local governments are as up-to-date as possible, integrated into the State's response system, and periodically reviewed, Emergency Services should develop and implement a system to track its receipt and review of these plans.

To ensure that it can implement in January 2007 the provisions of Chapter 80, Statutes of 2005, related to auditing cost reports from subrecipients of federal bioterrorism preparedness funds, Health Services should complete its planning efforts.

To simplify and clarify California's structure for emergency response preparation, the following steps should be taken:

  • The governor and the Legislature should consider streamlining the preparedness structure. For instance, they should consider establishing one state entity to be responsible for emergency preparedness, including preparedness for emergencies caused by terrorist acts.
  • The Legislature should consider statutorily defining the preparedness structure in law.
  • The Legislature should consider statutorily establishing State Homeland Security in law as either a stand-alone entity or a division within Emergency Services. Further, if it creates State Homeland Security as a stand-alone entity, the Legislature should consider statutorily defining the relationship between State Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

AGENCY COMMENTS

We asked Health Services, Emergency Services, and State Homeland Security to comment on our draft report. Health Services states that it agrees with the recommendation we directed at it and that it is on track with its planning efforts to implement audits of subrecipient cost reports in January 2007. For one of the three recommendations we directed at it, Emergency Services states that it has initiated the development of a system to better track the receipt and review of state and local emergency plans. Emergency Services did not describe the actions it would take to address the other two recommendations. Although State Homeland Security agrees with one of the three recommendations we directed at it and agrees in concept with a second, it does not address what actions it will take in the future in response to any of the recommendations.


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