Unified Federal Review Process for Disaster Recovery Projects

Program Development | Disaster Recovery | Agency Coordination | Streamlining | Guidance Document | Meeting Facilitation | EHP | ESA | NHPA | CZMA | CBRA


Effective recovery and rebuilding projects following natural disasters often involve the funding and support of more than one Federal agency and can require significant interagency collaboration and stakeholder engagement. In 2013, the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act established the requirement for the development of the Unified Federal Review (UFR) process to address coordination challenges during the environmental review process between multiple Federal Agencies after Presidentially declared disasters.

The Clark Group worked with FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to develop the UFR process in order to facilitate interagency compliance with environmental and historic preservation requirements. We worked to develop creative solutions to develop a program that provides flexible approaches and tools to meet the multitude of environmental and historic preservation requirements of the more than 20 agencies involved in disaster recovery projects.

The UFR process was designed to expedite Environmental and Historic Preservation (EHP) reviews for disaster recovery projects, which is important to ensure that Federal actions, such as Federal funding assistance, support disaster recovery while maintaining the responsibilities of the Federal government to act as a steward of natural and cultural resources.

We supported FEMA’s internal consensus building through working groups and executive level meetings in order to move the UFR process forward. This involved interpreting agency direction from a variety of stakeholders to improve interagency collaboration and streamline the EHP review process. TCG conducted interviews with federal agency staff and Tribal and state governments grant recipients to identify challenges in the existing federal disaster recovery application process. We then developed two (2) guidance documents, UFR Guidance for Environmental and Historic Preservation Practitioners and The Unified Federal Environmental and Historic Preservation Review Guide for Federal Disaster Recovery Assistance Applicants to help agency staff and applicants apply the federal EHP review requirements and processes that apply to disaster recovery projects. These guidance documents are the primary source of information for the process to comply with EHP requirements and available streamlining approaches for federally funded disaster recovery projects.  

We facilitated the UFR Working Group and the UFR Steering Group meetings, working with program staff, environmental staff, and agency leadership, along with preparing briefing materials and facilitating working group sessions. TCG worked with FEMA in all regions, DHS, White House CEQ, and ACHP, to develop the UFR process. This large multi-agency effort included over 10 different agencies participating and TCG supported the development of over 15 deliverables concurrently.  

We also worked with FEMA and ACHP to develop cooperative agreements including a Prototype Programmatic Agreement (PPA) for FEMA to develop state-by-state programmatic agreements to expedite Section 106 compliance for disaster recovery activities. Additionally, we developed new streamlining agreements such as MOUs for compliance including Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7 and NHPA Section 106 consultation processes, CZMA, and CBRA.   

TCG organized and developed implementation materials including briefings, FAQs, newsletters, fact sheets, videos, and presentations. We developed field and headquarters workshops as well. These materials were used to train and engage state applicants, local sub-applicants and federal agency staff in discussion for enhanced coordination for disaster recovery.

TCG was selected to support this effort because of our unparalleled expertise in Federal environmental laws and policy, coupled with our hands-on project management approach and experience working with FEMA grantees. We managed a diverse team of interdisciplinary staff while working under tight congressionally mandated deadlines. We also prepared a report to Congress summarizing our findings, work completed, and results. The project was developed on time, within budget and resulted in overall process efficiencies in environmental reviews by FEMA. The UFR Process won the FEMA Administrator’s Award of Excellence.