Pre-negotiated contracts let FEMA respond to disasters quicker

FEMA started rolling together contracts in support of disasters before they happen so they don't waste valuable response time negotiating.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is not afraid to look in the mirror, ask the tough questions and learn from its mistakes. After every disaster it responds to, it looks at what went right, what went wrong, and how to improve.

“One of the things we’ve really worked on is connecting the acquisition process to the mission of FEMA,” David Grant, FEMA associate administrator for mission support, said on DHS 15th Anniversary. “And what I mean by that is we can issue a lot of different contracts that support the mission. But our customers often times don’t know exactly what they need when they need it.”

So FEMA started rolling together contracts in support of disasters before they happen. Grant said FEMA went from 15-20 prepositioned contracts to around 50-60. They’re pre-negotiated, so they just have to be implemented when disaster strikes.

And the private sector has embraced this new model, Grant said. They don’t want to be responsive on a 24-hour notice.

“It starts with communication at the front end well before a disaster occurs, and we work through that process of what the mission is versus the requirements that fall out from that, and then work on the right contract to support that,” Grant told Jason Miller on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “The real key is to get the private sector supply chain management geared up and ready to go so that they can back-fill. Because really, in the end, I don’t think anyone in government would have the depot capacity to handle everything that might come up in a disaster.”

That’s why FEMA has to put lots of work into deciding what is most likely to be needed. That’s where FEMA is turning to data analytics.

Grant said in the past, these analytics have been largely anecdotal — because FEMA bought a lot of water last year, it ought to buy a lot this year, too. But the agency is trying to get away from that kind of planning, and turn instead toward data-driven decision-making.

“I’m not going to say we’re perfect in that regard, but we are maturing and getting a lot better, and that’s one of the expectations coming out of the [Joint Requirements Council]: that we need analytical support, data-driven decision making. That we can actually prove our point as we go in for some of these programs.

The JRC is a Homeland Security Department initiative that is trying to identify savings by investing in technologies, systems and contracts that work across the department’s varied components. To do that, the JRC has to get the component agencies talking about mission sets, and work their way down to requirements.

“At that point, I think you can find components start using the same lexicon, whether it’s an airplane, or for us, it’s survivors,” Grant said. “How can we support the survivor? Well, we need various items we need to buy, or we need IT systems that support our ability to deliver it. And at that point, you can start to compare and contrast with other components.”

That’s one of the ways data analytics comes in handy. Another is that they allow FEMA to define deliverables and track them to make sure programs stay on course.

“There’s no such thing as a program that goes linearly along the path and doesn’t vary,” Grant said. “There are always going to be issues that arrive that you have to look at, you have to decide how you’re going to address them. Having that information in your pocket allows you to then analyze it and make the right decisions as you go, and implement maybe more effectively.”

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