(Scroll down to the bottom to see two updates to this article.)
Forest Service funding for the IAFC
We have been hearing rumors that the International Association of Fire Chiefs has recently received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the U. S. Forest Service for the IAFC’s wildland fire program. We checked with the USFS office in Washington and spokesperson Phil Sammon told us that in Fiscal Year 2009 the IAFC received a grant for $450,000 that was funded by the USFS, the US Fire Administration, and the Department of Interior. The grant was to be used for the IAFC’s Wildland Fire Policy Committee, and for the IAFC to enhance and modify the “Ready, Set, Go” program for national use.
That $450,000 is in addition to $600,000 that the USFS granted to the IAFC in FY 2008 for “partnership on wildland fire initiatives”. This brings the total of taxpayer funds given to the IAFC by the US Forest Service (and the USFA/DOI) in the last two years to $1,050,000.
Some people don’t even know that the IAFC has a wildland fire section. Their primary interest is in structure fire, but they do host an annual wildland fire conference, frequently located in Reno, Nevada.
IAFC grants, 2002-2010: $13 million
But that $1.05 million from the USFS/USFA/DOI pales in comparison to the additional $11.03 million the IAFC has received from the Dept. of Homeland Security/FEMA Fire Prevention and Safety grant system. Harriet Parker, the Grants Manager for the IAFC, told us that of the $11.03, $6.12 million was identified for the Near-Miss reporting system which is supported by four other organizations in addition to the IAFC. It is surprising that the self-reporting system is so expensive to maintain. The additional $4.91 million was identified by FEMA for programs such as HazMat, national mutual aid system, sleep deprivation study, labor/management fittness, and other unspecified projects funded by FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant program. The IAFC also received $1.07 million from the Department of Transportation in 2007 for a “pipeline safety” program.
The grant funding data for 2000 through mid-2008 came from the FedSpending.org web site. Other data came from the FEMA grant site and personal conversations with the USFS press office staff in Washington. We summarized the data into a spread sheet in order to keep track of it.
These grant figures are only from federal sources, and do not include grant funding the IAFC has received from organizations outside the federal government. And the data from FedSpending.org web site is only current through mid-2008.
Mr. Sammon of the USFS told us that there have been “a number of Freedom of Information Act requests” for information about USFS funding for the IAFC. He did not speculate as to the reason, but it seems strange that it would take a FoIA request for the USFS to provide the information.
IAFC’s relationship with FEMA
Interestingly, the IAFC has extremely close ties to the FEMA grant system. In fact, they have received grants for developing the criteria for some of the FEMA grants. Here is a quote from the IAFC web site:
For the last several years, the IAFC has received grant awards from the Department of Homeland Security to facilitate the development of criteria for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program, which is also known as the FIRE Act. The AFG program awards grants directly to fire departments in order to meet their basic needs in areas such as vehicles, training, equipment and fire prevention.
The criteria are developed each year by a panel of representatives from national fire service organizations. The IAFC hosts the meeting and submits a report of the participants’ recommendations to the federal program office.
Recently the development of criteria for the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant program was included in this review process. SAFER is a grant program that provides funding to fire departments to recruit volunteers and hire career firefighters.
We were unable to find specific documentation about the grant amounts for developing the evaluation criteria for the FEMA grants. A spokesman for FEMA, “Ed”, denied that the IAFC had any relationship with FEMA related to the evaluation of the grants, which of course is contradicted by information on the IAFC web site, and our own personal knowledge.
Conflict of interest?
Since the IAFC has developed the criteria for the SAFER and AFG grants, but not the FP&S grants, the question must still be raised, should the organization that develops the award criteria for two out of the four FEMA fire grants be eligible for any FEMA fire grants? The IAFC’s success rate of receiving various types of grants from FEMA every year since 2002 is pretty remarkable. There are some non-profit organizations that have applied for FP&S grants and have not received a penny. Is the IAFC taking more than their fair share of taxpayer money? Should a large portion of the IAFC budget every year be supplied by the government?
Grant award success of the IAWF
The International Association of Wildland Fire has not been as lucky as the IAFC in receiving FEMA grants. The IAWF has applied for four Fire Prevention and Safety Grants, but none have been approved so far. The last one they applied for is for the grant year that is currently active. The official notice of the IAFC award appeared today on the FEMA grant site, so there is still a chance that the fourth try by the IAWF could be successful.
Why is the USFS funding IAFC?
The relatively recent interest since 2008 by the USFS in providing funds for the IAFC is puzzling. There has been speculation in the wildland community that since the IAFC’s wildland section was not self-sufficient, that is, not paying for itself, that it was going to be shut down. But the infusion of $1.05 million will probably postpone their demise for a year or two. We will also keep an eye on the organizational structure of the IAFC in case some former federal employees end up working at their offices in Fairfax, VA, just down the road from Washington, D.C.
UPDATE at 11:15, May 3, 2010
After Paula, in a comment below, pointed out his name, we found that Greg Cade, currently the IAFC’s “Assistant Director, Near Miss Programs and Mutual Aid Programs” is the former U.S. Fire Administrator. The Near Miss program is funded by the Dept. of Homeland Security and FEMA. The U.S. Fire Administration is also within the DHS. The IAFC strongly supported Mr. Cade’s nomination for U.S. Fire Administrator in 2007. His political appointment ended when the George W. Bush administration ended, on January 20, 2009.
The U.S. Fire Administration, along with the USFS and the DOI, supplied the $450,000 that was given to the IAFC in FY 2009, which was October 1, 2008 through September 30, 2009.
UPDATE on September 3, 2010
For the past several months we have been hearing that the IAFC is extremely upset about the fact that the information in this article has been revealed. They are blindly throwing around accusations that various organizations leaked this data.
Just to set the record straight, we heard from one person that the IAFC had recently received one federal grant for several hundred thousand dollars for a wildland fire related issue. That’s all. And it turned out that the amount of the grant was far larger than we were told. All of the rest of the information came from the publicly available web sites listed above, plus spokespersons for the USFS and the IAFC. Every source, other than the original limited, vague, and partially correct original bit of information, is detailed and linked to in the article above. We did not file a Freedom of Information Act request with the U. S. Forest Service, nor did we see any of the results from the multiple FOIA’s that were filed with the USFS.
The fact that the IAFC is so hyper-sensitive about the information in our article becoming public, raises the question of — why are they so sensitive? To borrow a line from the Queen in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
If the IAFC has a totally clear conscience, the best advice would be transparency, rather than angrily accusing innocent bystanders of providing the information that is publicly available on the Internet.
The U.S. Forest Service could use the same advice. Why did they refuse to provide some of the information until Freedom of Information Act requests were filed?