CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Federal Emergency Management Agency has given West Virginia’s emergency management agency an all-clear after longstanding sanctions over the state’s loose oversight of grant money.
FEMA sent a letter Monday to the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, immediately removing West Virginia from a mandatory manual reimbursement requirement the state had to operate under since 2015.
West Virginia MetroNews obtained the letter as part of an earlier Freedom of Information Act request.
A spokeswoman for the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said the agency has been working diligently to monitor grants and to ensure their appropriate use.
“In practical terms, our release from this requirement will allow for more efficient program operations,” stated emergency management spokeswoman Lora Lipscomb.
The agency gained some valuable knowledge the hard way, Lipscomb said.
“We will continue to increase financial oversight of our subrecipients using the best practices learned and the policies and procedures implemented during our tenure on manual reimbursement,” she stated in response to MetroNews questions.
FEMA’s official notification to the state followed a site visit from July.
“After meeting with monitoring staff during that visit, we are confident that WVDHSEM’s sub-recipient financial monitoring program is being fully implemented by WVDHSEM and there are no new significant findings for WV regarding subrecipient monitoring,” wrote Regeane Frederique, grants division director.
“The Grants Division remains committed to helping WVDHSEM build a strong grants management program, and we commend the strides that have been taken over the past few months.”
FEMA had placed West Virginia on mandatory manual reimbursement, which provided extra scrutiny of how federal dollars were used by sub-recipients such as local governments dealing with disaster relief.
The action resulted from years of FEMA concerns about whether West Virginia has the proper safeguards on federal grant money.
West Virginia was believed to be the only state, aside from Puerto Rico, under such mandatory manual reimbursement restrictions.
The issue blew up at the Legislature late last year when the sanctions were first described in a legislative audit report.
FEMA cited concerns dating back to 2011 and sent written notification to then-Emergency Management Director Jimmy Gianato in 2015.
“Without proper oversight of sub-recipients, WVDHSEM cannot provide evidence that Federal Funds are being effectively managed or utilized in accordance to federal regulations,” FEMA wrote in the 2015 letter.
But higher ups in West Virginia’s Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety told legislative auditors that they had not been made aware.
The legislative audit from last November drew attention to the situation.
“The federal action is the result of several years of DHSEM’s inability to comply with grant requirements and failure to remedy identified issues,” wrote the state’s Performance Evaluation and Research Division.
The emergency management agency has been working with FEMA to get the proper safeguards in place. FEMA completed a series of audits to assure proper oversight.
In a letter from Nov. 13, 2017, FEMA said it had a schedule of sub-recipients to review, coming within striking distance of satisfying its requirements.
“As a reminder, only when FEMA Region III is confident that the sub-recipient financial monitoring program is fully implemented by WVDHSEM and there are no new findings for WVDHSEM regarding sub-recipient monitoring will FEMA Region III release the manual reimbursement on all open FEMA awards administered by Region III,” the agency wrote at that point.
Mike Todorovich was named director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management late last year.
Todorovich had led a separate audit of the agency, along with Thomas Kirk, deputy secretary for the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. It concluded that staffing was woefully short and positions were grossly underfunded.
Under Todorovich, the agency went through restructuring, placing an emphasis on hiring additional personnel who could help with oversight.
One of those initiatives has been an internal review team meant to oversee whether grants are being used properly. The internal review team is set to include a certified public accountant, a quality assurance manager, a chief monitor and three monitoring coordinators who report to the director.