Audits matter: Why you should never lie to FEMA
The federal government is taking a closer look than ever at grant applications, and going after those who try gaming the system
When planning your grant applications, you must build a strong profile of your department and its service area.
In order to achieve this, gather demographic information from your coverage area and combine it with statistical information from your department. This information will become the backbone of your grant application.
The information you gather should be from your annual budget, fire reports, truck logs, census data, real estate statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau. It should be hard, reliable facts, and not "guesstimates" or speculation. There are two reasons for this:
- It will help you develop a stronger, more competitive application.
- Using information that is false or misleading is a crime.
After you complete an application for state or federal funding, there is a certification section. In this section, the chief officer of your department certifies that the information in the application is true. This applies to whether you develop and complete the application yourself or if you use a grant writer.
Recent fraud investigation
In recent months, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is taking a more active role in investigating allegations of waste, fraud and abuse of federal grant funds. The OIG is also looking into allegations of submitting false or misleading information as part of a grant application.
Last week, U.S. Attorney Stephanie A. Finley announced that Curtis Roller, 57, of Jonesboro, La., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Donald E. Walter to three counts of wire fraud after illegally obtaining Federal Emergency Management Agency grants and making false statements on workers compensation forms.
According to evidence presented in the indictment and the guilty plea hearing, from Jan. 1, 2002 to Dec. 31, 2010, Roller submitted false information on grant applications he sent to FEMA. He did so in hopes that fire departments in Louisiana and Arkansas were eligible to receive federal funds to purchase firefighting equipment.
Do the crime, pay the time
Roller is accused of inflating population data, agency coverage areas and numbers of responded calls on the FEMA grant application.
In addition, he was also accused of overstating the type of calls responded to, under-reporting the size of budgets and increasing the scope of their needs on the applications. This is against FEMA rules and policies for a grant writer to financially benefit from money awarded.
Roller faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, five years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine and restitution for each count of wire fraud. Sentencing is set for Sept. 18.
Hopefully, this will serve as a reminder that knowingly submitting false information or violating procurement policies is a serious matter. And, yes, someone is always checking.