The Program is designed around the concept of "local control". Consistent with this philosophy, the Commission establishes statewide requirements and guidelines, but allows individual districts to establish local policies and procedures to customize the Program for the needs within their county. Each district is required to establish a four-member Quality Assurance Board (QAB) that becomes the primary "steering committee" that makes recommendations to the district board on local policies and project funding.
The QAB's purpose is to assist the district with the establishment of local controls and program requirements including but not limited to fiscal, environmental, written priorities, training incentives and site inspection. The QAB serves in an advisory capacity only to the conservation district board. The QAB makes recommendations to the board but the authority for project approval and spending is with the district directors. Only the district board may approve spending of Program Funds.
4.1 QAB Composition
A four member QAB is required by law for each district administering the Program. The QAB must consist of the four members described above in 9106 (E), or their designee. The chairman of the QAB may not participate in a vote, other than to decide a tie vote. No one other than the four QAB members may vote. To broaden citizen involvement, the QAB may enlist any individual or organization to be advisors (non-voting) to the four-member QAB.
The district should select the district's voting and non-voting members for the QAB, verify their willingness to serve and ascertain that no conflict of interest exists by adopting and enforcing a conflict of interest policy statement.
The district should contact the PA Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to identify the proper representatives from each agency for the QAB. Individuals possessing an awareness of local environmental issues, familiarity with project administration, road maintenance, or natural habitats could be valuable QAB members. If any appointee cannot meaningfully participate, or chooses not to participate, a suitable replacement should be found.
The PFBC or NRCS may appoint a person who is not necessarily a PFBC or NRCS employee to the QAB to serve as that agency’s representative. Local conservation agencies such as Trout Unlimited or conservancies may be a potential source of QAB volunteers should PFBC or NRCS wish to appoint a designee. The appointment must be agreed upon by both the district and the agency. PFBC, NRCS, or the district can also designate alternates to their spot on the QAB who can attend and vote if the primary member cannot attend. Such designations must be in writing from each agency with respect to their spot on the QAB. A sample QAB designee letter can be found on the Center's Blank Forms page. This letter is a sample only. It can be modified as needed.
The individual members of the QAB are expected to become familiar with the Program and they are encouraged to attend the Environmentally Sensitive Maintenance (ESM) training. At least one of the two district members of the QAB must attend ESM training every five years. There is no requirement for the QAB members representing the PFBC and the NRCS to attend training, but it is strongly encouraged.
4.2 QAB Meetings
4.2.1 Scheduling QAB Meetings
QAB meetings may be held on a regular schedule, or on an as-needed basis. All QAB meetings are subject to the public notification requirements outlined below. The most common action items that occur at QAB meetings are:
- Visit to potential application sites
- Review and/or ranking of grant application(s)
- Recommendations of project for funding to district board
- Review of completed projects
- Recommendation of local policies to district board
4.2.2 Public Meeting Notifications
QAB meetings must be scheduled and are subject to the requirements of Pennsylvania’s Sunshine law.
PA Sunshine law requires that notice of regularly scheduled QAB meetings must be given once a year by advertising in a newspaper of general circulation at least three days prior to the first meeting of the year. The notice must give the place, date, and time of the first meeting and a schedule of the QAB’s remaining regular meetings. Notice of the QAB meeting also must be prominently posted at the principal office of the agency or at the public building where the meeting is to be held.
If QAB meetings are not held on a regular schedule, procedures in the Sunshine law for "special meetings" should be followed. For rescheduled or special meetings, notice of the meeting must be published in a newspaper of general circulation at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting. The notice must give the place, date, and time of the meeting. QAB meetings may be held using a conference call. These meetings must still be sunshined and the public must be able to participate. The public should be invited to come to the district office to participate in the call and have the committee members call in to participate. Details on the PA Sunshine Act can be found here.
4.2.3 QAB Meeting Procedures
The QAB must establish rules of order and procedures to govern their meetings. There must be a quorum (at least two of the three voting QAB members), to vote on any recommendations to the district board. The QAB chairman may only vote to decide a tie. Meeting minutes must be kept and made available to the district board and general public. QAB meetings may be held via conference call as long as they meet the public notice requirements described above.
4.3 QAB Role in Projects
While much of the administrative and project oversight work is the responsibility of the district staff, QAB members are encouraged to be active participants in the Program to the greatest extent possible. An active QAB is typically the first sign of a successful Program in a county.
4.3.1 Project Ranking
Some of the major functions of the QAB are to determine project eligibility, rank projects for funding, and make funding recommendations to the district board. Each county should have a written local ranking sheet for projects, as described in section 18.104.22.168.
QAB members are encouraged to visit application sites before regular QAB meetings in order to be able to better discuss the projects and applications. Many counties will have QAB site tours to look at application sites together. This has the advantage of allowing discussion between the QAB members and district staff. Some counties will provide QAB members with a list of applications, and QAB members will perform site visits on their own prior to QAB meetings. In some counties, the district staff will visit potential application sites, and take pictures to present to the QAB at their regular meeting. While not as effective as visiting the potential projects, the presentation approach is still more beneficial than simply looking at a list of applications on paper.
Remember in scheduling QAB meetings, both official and unofficial, that "all deliberations leading up to official actions" are subject to the public notification requirements of the Sunshine law described above.
4.3.2 Project Funding Recommendation
The QAB makes recommendations to the district board based on established district ranking criteria and Program policies. QAB funding recommendations must be made at a public meeting subject to PA’s Sunshine law described above. District staff should then take QAB recommendations to the district board for approval at a regular meeting. Once the district board acts to approve an application for funding, district staff can pursue any final measures necessary to secure a contract with the grant recipient.
4.3.3 Project Implementation and Completion
Once the district board acts on the QAB’s recommendation and enters into a contract with a grant recipient, district staff will be responsible for the general administration, oversight, and inspection of the project. Future decisions on funded projects can be made between the district staff and district board with minimal QAB involvement. For example, the district board may approve a contract amendment to a project without QAB involvement. QAB members are encouraged to stay involved with the project through site visits, but no further QAB action is required. Many districts also hold "completed site tours" with their QAB that allows them to visit and discuss completed projects.
4.4 QAB Role in Policy
In addition to project funding recommendations, the development of local policies is the second major function of the QAB. As with funding recommendations, any QAB policy recommendations must be approved by the district board. Some of the policies described below are "required" by either the Commission Statement of Policy (Section 8. QAB Responsibilities) or the law that created the Program. The "optional" polices below are given only as examples of other policies that have been adopted by QABs around the state. QABs may create policies that are equally or more restrictive than statewide policies. For example, since statewide policy is that new stream crossing structures must be at least 100 percent of bank full width; local policies could alter this to be at least 120 percent. Local policies can also impose additional requirements. For example, a policy requiring pre-application site visits, which are highly recommended but not required statewide, could be adopted by the local QAB.
In order to assist districts and QABs in developing policies, a collection of policies from each county is available through the Center’s Conservation Districts page.
4.4.1 Required Policies
22.214.171.124 Equal Access
The Commission Statement of Policy (Section 7.f) requires districts to develop a "fair and open selection process" pertaining to notifying potential applicants and accepting potential applications. All potential applicants must receive equal notification on topics such as: funding availability, application deadlines, availability of district-owned equipment (such as grader blades or traffic counters), training, etc. See section 3.7.1 for a listing and description of eligible applicants.
126.96.36.199 Conflict of Interest
The Commission Statement of Policy (Section 8.d(3)) requires districts to develop "rules of conduct, including "…to avoid conflicts of interest by members of the QAB". These include provisions for QAB, conservation district staff, and district board members to abstain from voting on the recommendations of policies or projects where they have a vested interest.
The Commission Statement of Policy (Section 8.b(3)) requires districts to develop "written criteria to specify priorities" when it comes to ranking projects for funding. This is typically in the form of a grant application ranking sheet developed by the QAB and approved by the district board. These evaluation sheets rank applications using a numerical score and provide a basis for comparing numerous applications before making funding recommendations. A sample grant application ranking sheet is available on the Center's Blank Forms page.
188.8.131.52 Incentive for Training
The Commission Statement of Policy (Section 8.b(5)) requires districts to develop "incentives for training road managers and equipment operators". Commission policy is that the person in charge of project implementation for the applicant must be ESM certified, but districts may institute additional training incentives.
Some examples of additional training incentives include: reimbursing applicants travel expenses for attending ESM training or annual workshops; hosting ESM trainings in their county to reduce travel time and expenses for potential applicants; and encouraging district staff to put on other workshops, field days, tours, etc.
The cost of implementing the incentives may be paid for with either education or administrative funds. The district may establish a written policy to specify what incentives may be used.
184.108.40.206 Non-pollution Standards
The Commission Statement of Policy (Section 8.b(6)) requires districts to develop "standards that prohibit use of materials or practices which are environmentally harmful". The district must adopt the Commission’s non-pollution standards or a more stringent policy.
4.4.2 Optional Local Policies and Procedures
QABs may recommend, and district board may adopt, a range of local policies that govern how the Program is administered within the county. Any local policies must be equally or more stringent than any statewide Program policies, and must ensure equal access to all potential Program participants. Please contact Commission staff if you have questions on a particular policy. A few examples of the potentially limitless array of local policies include:
- Establishing deadlines for grant application submittal.
- Establishing a maximum grant cap.
- Only advancing X percent (must be <50 percent) of funds, or none at all, to grant recipients before work begins.
- Limiting the amount or percentage of project funding that can be used of Driving Surface Aggregate or asphalt paving.
- Establishing a policy that grant recipients must maintain previous projects to be eligible for future funding.
- Requiring a certain percentage in-kind match.