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Home arrow Unified Federal Review

Three logos: 1) Executive Office of the President of the United States; 2) Advisory Council for Historic Preservation; 3) U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Unified Federal Review

What is the Unified Federal Review?

On January 29, 2013, President Obama signed into law the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 (SRIA) which amended the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Recovery Act by adding Section 429, which directs the President to “establish an expedited and unified interagency review process to ensure compliance with environmental and historic requirements under federal law relating to disaster recovery projects, in order to expedite the recovery process, consistent with applicable law.” This process is to be established by July 29, 2014, with the goal of improving federal and state decision-making to allow for more predictable outcomes from planning and implementing disaster recovery projects. This can improve the federal government’s assistance to states, local, and tribal governments, communities, families and individual citizens as they recover from future presidentially declared disasters. This is not a stand-alone process; rather it will align with other efforts charged with improving efficiencies in federal decision-making (e.g. National Disaster Recovery Framework and Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force).

Joplin, Missouri after the EF-5 tornado touched down on May 22, 2011. Photo courtesy of FEMA. Joplin, Missouri after the EF-5 tornado touched down on May 22, 2011. Photo courtesy of FEMA.

The development of a Unified Federal Review process is being led by a Steering Group consisting of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). The Steering Group is responsible for developing and implementing a process that enhances and improves efficiencies related to federal environmental and historic preservation reviews for disaster recovery projects. While the Unified Federal Review is required to establish efficiencies for environmental and historic preservation reviews for disasters declared by the President, it is the intent of the Steering Group that the processes and tools developed as the end result will be applicable to other disaster situations that are not covered under the Stafford Act.

The number of recent devastating disasters (see chart) and the rising associated costs also guide the efforts to establish more efficient and expeditious environmental and historic preservation reviews.

Graph of Presidentially-declared disasters in the past 5 years.

Graph of Presidentially-declared disasters in the past 5 years based on geographic regions.

For more information on related efforts:
FEMA’s National Disaster Recovery Framework
http://www.fema.gov/national-disaster-recovery-framework

Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force
http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/sandyrebuilding

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Authority

The Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 added Section 429 to the Stafford Act which directs the President to establish an expedited and unified interagency review process by July 29, 2014 for disaster recovery actions. The responsibility for implementing the Stafford Act has been delegated to DHS and its component, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

» Section 429 of the Stafford Act

Why this matters

What are natural resources?
This term covers a wide array of resources to include land, fish, wildlife, biota, air, water, groundwater, drinking water supplies, and other such resources managed by or otherwise controlled by the United States, any state or local government, any foreign government, or any Indian Tribe. [CERCLA §101 (16)]

What are cultural resources and historic properties?
Defined under the NHPA, historic properties are prehistoric or historic districts, sites, buildings, structures or objects that are included in or eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) under the NHPA. The determination of eligibility is made by the National Register of Historic Places or State Historic Preservation Officers, in coordination with federal agencies. Properties of traditional religious and cultural importance to an Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization may also be considered eligible for listing in the National Register. [36 C.F.R. §800.16(1)(1)]

Cultural resources, as defined in the NEPA regulations include sacred sites, archaeological sites and archaeological collections, as well historic properties that may not be eligible for the NRHP.

By their very nature, actions taken to recover from major disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods can have a significant impact on natural and cultural resources and historic properties within communities. When federal agencies are called upon to provide assistance with disaster recovery, they must fulfill the requirements of federal review and permitting responsibilities. federal agencies are required to determine if their proposed actions have significant impacts on the natural and built environment through procedural laws, such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Additional review may be required for actions which require consideration under the Endangered Species Act, Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, and the U.S. Coast Guard’s Bridge Permitting authority. There are a range of actions that trigger environmental and historic preservation reviews in disaster recovery, for example: providing permits for private action such as stabilizing river banks or removing sediment within navigable waterways, replacing or repairing critical infrastructure, debris removal on federal lands and constructing publicly-owned facilities, such as post offices.

The goal of these compliance requirements is to ensure that federal agencies consider the impact of a proposed project on public health and safety, security, the environment, and community resources so that these impacts are avoided, minimized, or mitigated.

A Unified Federal Review can expedite disaster recovery projects, enhance consistency in review processes across federal agencies, and assist agencies in better leveraging their resources and tools.  Increasing efficiencies in reviews will benefit federal agencies and result in better management of resources, but, most importantly, will work to better serve communities in post-disaster recovery.

Flooding along the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in June 2008. Photo courtesy of FEMA. Flooding along the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in June 2008. Photo courtesy of FEMA.

Breezy Point, New York after Hurricane Sandy storm surges and related fire ravaged the neighborhood on October 29, 2012. Photo courtesy of FEMA. Breezy Point, New York after Hurricane Sandy storm surges and related fire ravaged the neighborhood on October 29, 2012. Photo courtesy of FEMA.

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Working Groups

To help with this task, three working groups (Policy, Capacity Building and Data/Information Technology) will inform the Steering Group. Each of the working groups is led by one of the three Steering Group members (CEQ, ACHP and DHS) with the exception of FEMA who is active on all three groups. The Steering Group invited several other federal agencies with technical and subject matter expertise related to environmental and historic resources and disaster recovery to participate on the working groups and assist in this effort.

The working groups will identify ways to enhance efficiencies in environmental and historic preservation reviews so that those impacted by disaster will be the beneficiaries of an improved and more efficient federal review process that expedites the delivery of recovery actions. Throughout the process, a diverse set of interested stakeholders will be consulted with to maximize results and inform both the working groups and the Steering Group.

Policy
The Policy Working Group is chaired by the CEQ and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with participants from FEMA, Department of the Interior (DOI), U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and Economic Development Agency (EDA). The major focus areas for this group include: identifying federal agency roles and responsibilities during post disaster recovery, developing and enhancing environmental and historic preservation review efficiencies in sharing information and establishing consistency and interoperability among federal reviews. 

Capacity Building
The Capacity Building Working Group is chaired by the ACHP and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) with participants from FEMA, DOI, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The major focus areas for this group include: identifying existing tools and resources and building upon those to establish more effective training, education and inter-agency relationships and developing relevant materials to guide applicants (i.e. State and local governments, non-governmental organizations, institutions, etc.) and federal agencies through post disaster recovery situations. 

Data/Information Technology
The Data/IT Working Group is chaired by the DHS and the National Park Service (NPS) with participants from FEMA, Forest Service (FS), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This group is focused on identifying ways to improve access to and sharing of data and information needed by the various federal, tribal, state, and local agencies involved in environmental and historic preservation reviews for disaster recovery projects.

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Partner Agencies

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Department of Homeland Security

Council on Environmental Quality

Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

National Park Service

Economic Development Administration

Fish and Wildlife Services

Department of Interior

Department of Transportation

Federal Transit Authority

Environmental Protection Agency

Bureau of Land Management

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration

Rural Utilities Service

U.S. Forest Service

Federal Highway Administration

Federal Communications Commission

Debris scattered across Ellis Island after Hurricane Sandy on October 29, 2012. Major infrastructure damage occurred to a number of buildings and to exhibit collections and has left the facility closed to the public. Photo courtesy of NPS. Debris scattered across Ellis Island after Hurricane Sandy on October 29, 2012. Major infrastructure damage occurred to a number of buildings and to exhibit collections and has left the facility closed to the public. Photo courtesy of NPS.

Frequently Asked Questions

» Unified Federal Review FAQ

Contact Us

It is the intention of the Unified Federal Review Steering Group to engage interested stakeholders to gather input that will help develop the Unified Federal Review process for environmental and historic preservation reviews. We will update the site as necessary to include additional relevant information, as well as, our efforts on stakeholder engagement.

If you have any additional questions or comments, please feel free to contact us.

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Updated March 6, 2014

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