Human Capital:

Opportunities to Improve Federal Continuity Planning Guidance

GAO-04-384: Published: Apr 20, 2004. Publicly Released: Apr 20, 2004.

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Federal agencies must have the capacity to serve the public during disruptions to normal operations. This depends, in part, on continuity efforts that help agencies marshal, manage, and maintain their most important asset--their people, or human capital. GAO identified the human capital considerations relevant to federal continuity efforts; described efforts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to address these considerations relevant to continuity of operations (COOP); and described the role Federal Executive Boards (FEB) play in coordinating such efforts outside Washington, D.C.

According to recognized experts from the private and public sectors, continuity efforts should give priority to the immediate aftermath of a crisis--securing the safety of all employees and addressing the needs of employees who perform essential operations. However, experts noted that additional human capital considerations, especially those associated with the majority of an organization's employees who would be needed to resume all other operations, are also crucial and have not been well developed by many public and private sector organizations. To more fully address human capital considerations, experts identified two human capital principles that should guide all continuity efforts--demonstrating sensitivity to individual employee needs and maximizing the contributions of all employees--and six key organizational actions designed to enhance continuity efforts. FEMA and OPM have exhibited leadership in addressing human capital considerations relevant to COOP, but opportunities to improve exist. For example, while both agencies have issued guidance that addresses securing the safety of all employees and responding to the needs of personnel performing essential operations, neither agency's guidance addresses human capital considerations related to resuming broader agency operations. Although not specifically tasked with coordinating emergency preparedness efforts, including COOP, FEBs are uniquely positioned to do so, given their general responsibility for improving coordination among federal activities in areas outside of Washington, D.C. While some FEBs already play an active role in coordinating such efforts, the current context in which FEBs operate, including the lack of a clearly defined role and varying capacities among FEBs, could lead to inconsistent levels of preparedness across the nation.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Director of OPM should develop and provide additional emergency preparedness guidance to more fully address human capital considerations by incorporating the six organizational actions identified in this report.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM increased the guidance available to more fully address human capital considerations identified in the report by collaborating with FEMA to revise Federal Preparedness Circular 65 and included an Human Capital Annex the circular which was released in June 2004; released a Federal Employee's Emergency Guide in August 2005; released a Federal Manager's/Decision Maker's Emergency Guide in August 2005; released a Guide to Telework in the Federal Government in August 2006; released Human Capital Planning For A Pandemic Flu Episode in August 2006; released a Handbook on Pay and Leave Benefits for Federal Employees Affected by Severe Weather Conditions or Other Emergency Situations in July 2007; and released a memorandum from Director Springer to the heads of executive departments and agencies on the subject of HR Flexibilities Available to Assist Federal Employees Affected by Severe Weather Conditions or Other Emergency Situations in July 2007.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response to complete efforts to revise federal COOP guidance to more fully address human capital considerations by incorporating the six organizational actions identified in this report.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Homeland Security did not revise federal continuity of operations (COOP) guidance to incorporate all six organizational actions identified in the report. FEMA did issue a new FPC 65 in June 2004. The new guidance included an annex on human capital that was not available in the circular it superseded. The additional guidance partially addresses the recommendation; however, it does not provide guidance on enabling employees associated with resumption activities, as opposed to essential operations, to contribute to mission results.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response to expand the definition of a COOP event in federal guidance to recognize that severe emergencies requiring COOP implementation can include people-only events.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FEMA issued a new FPC 65 in June 2004 superseding previous guidance. The revisions included highlighting that COOP is to address all-hazard emergencies. The objectives of COOP were restated to include "all-hazard", which was not in the previous guidance. In addition, the section on planning considerations was revised to include "all-hazard risk assessments". The agency responsibilities were restated to include "all-hazard preparedness". In addition, in March 2006, FEMA released Continuity of Operations (COOP) Pandemic Guidance. This guidance noted that "FEMA has concluded that planning for a pandemic requires a state of preparedness that is beyond traditional Federal Government COOP planning". The guidance notes that the COOP planning for pandemic would alternatives to staff relocation/co-location such as social distancing in the workplace through telecommuting or other means. The FEMA guidance available to agencies now includes an emphasis of all-hazard emergencies and has provided additional guidance for a pandemic tailoring the COOP guidance to this people-only event.

    Recommendation: The Director of OPM should determine the desired role for FEBs to play in improving coordination of emergency preparedness efforts, including COOP, and identify and address FEB capacity issues to meet that role. It would be appropriate for FEBs to be formally incorporated into federal emergency preparedness guidance, including COOP guidance, for areas outside of Washington, D.C.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On August 1, 2008, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to better define the role of the federal executive boards (FEB) in emergency preparedness activities. The MOU states that the FEBs and FEMA will work together in carrying out their respective roles and strengthen their existing teamwork in the area of continuity activities by working together, and with member agencies, on the dissemination of continuity guidance and the development, training, and exercising of continuity plans with member departments and agencies. OPM also identified and addressed FEB continuity issues by winning approval from the Office of Management and Budget in February 2008 to implement a new funding mechanism for the FEBs nationwide. The new funding mechanism established a mandatory charge to be paid by the agencies served by a particular board, ensuring a steady source of funding for the FEBs.

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