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Bill Introduced to Reorganize Department Of Military Affairs and Public Safety

CHARLESTON — The name and structure of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety could change if a bill introduced Wednesday on behalf of Gov. Jim Justice makes it through the legislative session.

Senate Bill 586 would reorganize and re-designate the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety as the Department of Homeland Security.

The new Department of Homeland Security would share many of the same functions as the current department, such as the West Virginia State Police, the Intelligence Fusion Center, the State Fire Marshal’s office, the Division of Protective Services, and the Parole Board. The department would be the administrative agency for homeland security and emergency management grants.

It also codifies changes made within DMAPS, such as the new Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which combined the state regional jails, prisons, and juvenile services into one branch; and the Division of Administrative Services, which will handle payroll, accounting and human resources; the new Inspector General’s Office, which came to prominence after their investigation of a photo showing correctional academy cadets using the Nazi salute; and an administrative law judge position to handle grievances.

Brian Abraham, general counsel for the Governor’s Office, said they’ve been working with Jeff Sandy, secretary of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, on finding ways to realign the department to make it more efficient.

“We decided with the secretary there were things we could do to improve DMAPS efficiencies,” Abraham said. “We’re trying to realign some of those things and codify them…the flow seemed to work and the organizational chart made sense to the Governor’s Office.”

The bill would remove the West Virginia National Guard, the State Armory Board, and the Military Awards Board from the new department. These agencies would become stand-alone agencies beneath the Governor’s Office.

“This dates back to the 80s, but the placement of the National Guard within DMAPS itself didn’t necessarily fit,” Abraham said. “There are certain legal parameters that don’t allow the military to be involved in (law enforcement) and it became apparent to us that this doesn’t look like the other.”

The bill would also rename the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to the Division of Emergency Management. Division employees hired after the bill’s effective date would become will-and-pleasure employees. Current employees hired through the Civil Service System would remain Civil Service unless they change job classifications within the division. Abraham said the change would help the division be able to hire top talent and pay them reasonably.

“It’s really about hiring,” Abraham said. “We found one of the shortcomings is we had people responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and they made $31,500 per year. We weren’t necessarily getting the best and the brightest in these positions for the simple fact that we couldn’t offer a market salary that would attract the best qualified people.”

The bill is one of several dealing with better preparing the state for natural disasters and man-made emergencies. The Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding recommended three bills to the full Legislature, including a bill to allow the division to hire will-and-pleasure employees, to allow for bidding on open-ended contracts during a state of emergency, and the creation of a State Resiliency Office to coordinate multiple state agencies for emergency planning and disaster mitigation.

The Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety was first created by the Legislature in 1989. The Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management was created in 2005 and was led by Jimmy Gianato, who served three governors as director and homeland security advisor until 2019 when he resigned after a series of scandals.

Gianato was first removed as director of the division in October 2018 after legislative auditors revealed that Gianato hid correspondence from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Auditors discovered that the Federal Emergency Management Agency wrote Gianato a letter in November 2015 that said the state was being penalized for not following grant reporting requirements – a letter he never reported to his cabinet secretary or the governor’s office at the time.

Starting in 2016, FEMA’s manual reimbursement penalty required homeland security to use state funds to make initial expenditures. FEMA would then only reimburse the state after homeland security officials justified the expenditures, adding up to 90 days for federal reimbursements exceeding $100,000. Those sanctions were not removed until September 2019.

Gianato was replaced as division director by retired Lt. Col. Michael Todorovich, though he remained as homeland security advisor until April 2019. The division was also put under the supervision of West Virginia National Guard Adj. Gen. James Hoyer. Both agencies answer to the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

According to auditors, the division was cited by FEMA for not following grant requirements and monitoring going back to 2009. Homeland security officials did not establish any internal controls on federal grants and had not corrected monitoring issues of grant sub-recipients since 2011. An investigation into FEMA grant funding abuse by officials with the City of Richwood by State Auditor J.B. McCuskey specifically cited Gianato and the division for not monitoring FEMA’s public assistance grant program.

A bill presented last year received pushback from county emergency services managers when the Governor’s Office proposed putting the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management permanently within the National Guard and moving both agencies from DMAPS to directly beneath the Governor. Abraham said this year’s bill should alleviate those concerns.

“When we put together the realignment, we decided to go ahead and leave it in and putting everything more streamlined within the organizational chart,” Abraham said. “We think it’s going to work really well. We’re hoping that everyone gets behind it.”

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