How to bridge the fire grant communication divide

The delays and frustrations with this year's fire grants can be avoided in coming years if applicants and FEMA better communicate

Recently, I feel like the parent of a couple of teenagers. Any of you who have raised teens completely understands that your main job title is investigator and moderator.

There are days that you actually think that bringing about world peace would be easier than trying to solve how a new dent got in the trunk of the car.

As I travel and talk with fire departments from around the country, I'm picking up an extreme sense of frustration with the current AFG grant situation. As of this point, only about 60 percent of the AFG grant funds have been awarded.

It's August, the month that FEMA told everyone that the 2016 AFG cycle would open. This may not seem like major disaster to some, but it really is.

Then I talk to the people at FEMA and I hear their side of the story. Basically the grant process has been brought to a screeching halt by two things.

SAM I am
The first is that an unbelievable number of departments are in line to receive awards, but they have SAM and/or DUNS issues. These issues have been ongoing with some departments for weeks now.

Technically, starting last year FEMA can simply deny your award if your SAM and DUNS registrations are not correct or up to date regardless of how high your application scored.

Second, FEMA's AFG section has been hit by staffing issues.

AFG has not had a section chief for months. Some personnel have left to work for local governments. Others have transferred in the federal government itself, and there are people on maternity leave. Factor into this that it is summer and workers want to take vacation and you start to get a clearer picture of the situation.

But, if you didn't know these things then you wouldn't understand. This is where I slip back to being the investigator and moderator of teenagers.

Departments, it is time to get serious about SAM and DUNS registration. Those of you with SAM and DUNS issues you are the reason for this delay in awards and the delay in opening the 2016 AFG grant cycle.

In plain English, you have clogged the system.

Talk to me
Next, FEMA. In recent years FEMA has emailed updates to applicants and potential applicants concerning grant openings and new program requirements.

Why not send out an update on the awards process to keep us aware of what's going on. Without official word, we will believe things we hear from the last vendor we talked with or read in some Internet chat room.

If you are having staffing issues and things are running a few weeks behind, just let us know. Believe me, we all understand what it is like to try to do more with less staff. That happens every day in the fire and EMS services.

If there are SAM issues let us know.

Speaking of SAM issues. Can I suggest that FEMA finds a way to link the AFG application with SAM? Then if a department does not have a current SAM registration, they would not be able to complete the AFG application. This would save all of us time and work.

Finally, is it be possible to give an applicant who has made it to peer review but not been funded some sense of where their application ranked? It would be nice to know if my application just needed a little adjustment or if I missed completely.

I realize that giving out scores will not make sense. Can you develop a priority system to let me know if my application missed by a few points (high) or if it needed a lot of work to be competitive (low)? This way I would have some idea of what to do with the application in future years.

I don't need either side to cop to this dent in the trunk. I need both of you to show that you've listened and understand so we can avoid any future dents. Now, go help your mother with the cleaning.

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