Disaster Relief:

Governmentwide Framework Needed to Collect and Consolidate Information to Report on Billions in Federal Funding for the 2005 Gulf Coast Hurricanes

GAO-06-834: Published: Sep 6, 2006. Publicly Released: Sep 6, 2006.

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Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region of the United States and caused billions of dollars in damage. Hurricanes Rita and Wilma further exacerbated damage to the region. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was tasked with the primary role of managing the federal relief and recovery efforts. This review was performed under the Comptroller General's authority because of widespread congressional interest in the response to this disaster. GAO examined whether the federal government was adequately tracking and reporting on the use of the funding provided in the four emergency supplemental appropriations acts enacted as of June 2006. GAO analyzed the emergency supplemental appropriations acts and conference reports, reviewed FEMA's required weekly reports, and interviewed federal agency officials.

FEMA's required weekly reports to the Appropriations Committees on the use of funds it received do not provide timely information from a governmentwide perspective because FEMA does not have a mechanism to report on the financial activity of the agencies performing work on its behalf. Specifically, when FEMA tasks another federal agency through a mission assignment, FEMA records the entire amount upfront as an obligation, whereas the performing agency does not record an obligation until a later date, thereby overstating reported governmentwide obligations. The opposite is true for expenditures. The performing agency expends the funds, but then bills FEMA for reimbursement. FEMA does not record the expenditure until it has received the bill and reviewed it, thereby understating reported governmentwide expenditures. As a result, while FEMA is reporting as required, from a governmentwide perspective, FEMA's reported obligations are overstated and expenditures are understated. The federal government also does not have a governmentwide framework or mechanisms in place to collect and consolidate information from the individual federal agencies that received emergency supplemental appropriations for hurricane relief and recovery efforts and report on this information. About $88 billion has been appropriated to 23 different federal agencies through four emergency supplemental appropriations acts; however, no one agency or central collection point exists to compile and report on how these funds are being spent. Decision makers need this consolidated information to determine how much federal funding has been spent and by whom, whether more may be needed, or whether too much has been provided. The ability to separately track and report on these funds is important to help ensure better accountability and clearly identify the status of funding provided in direct response to these hurricanes at both the individual federal agency level as well as the governmentwide level. Also, it is important to provide additional transparency so that hurricane victims, affected states, as well as American taxpayers, know how these funds are being spent.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 4, 2006, Public Law 109-295 was enacted and included language requiring DHS to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the information on the status of hurricane relief and recovery funds provided in FEMA's weekly reports to the Appropriations Committees from a governmentwide perspective, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of FEMA to include in the weekly report amounts reimbursed to other agencies that are in suspense because FEMA has not yet reviewed and approved the documentation supporting the expenditures.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 4, 2006, Public Law 109-295 was enacted and included language requiring DHS to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the information on the status of hurricane relief and recovery funds provided in FEMA's weekly reports to the Appropriations Committees from a governmentwide perspective, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of FEMA to request and include actual obligation and expenditure data from agencies performing mission assignments on an established basis (e.g., monthly or quarterly).

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

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 4, 2006, Public Law 109-295 was enacted and included language requiring DHS to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the information on the status of hurricane relief and recovery funds provided in FEMA's weekly reports to the Appropriations Committees from a governmentwide perspective, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of FEMA to explain in the weekly reports how FEMA's reported obligations and expenditures for mission assignments do not reflect the status from a governmentwide perspective.

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

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On March 19, 2007, OMB submitted a report, in response to a congressional inquiry, that compiled the status of governmentwide obligations and outlays of hurricane supplemental funds, by federal agency, for fiscal years 2005 and 2006, and the first quarter of fiscal year 2007. Also, according to OMB, the agency plans to continue issuing data calls to federal agencies and reporting these governmentwide obligations and outlays on a semi-annual basis. This reporting effectively implements our recommendation by reporting on the status of hurricane-related funding at both the individual federal agency level as well as the governmentwide level.

    Recommendation: To help ensure better accountability, provide additional transparency, and clearly identify the status of the hurricane-related funding provided by emergency supplemental appropriations at both the individual federal agency level as well as the governmentwide level, the Director, Office of Management and Budget should establish a framework for governmentwide reporting on the status of the hurricane-related funding. OMB could either collect and consolidate this information itself or designate another appropriate agency, such as the Department of the Treasury, to do so and report to the Appropriations Committees on a periodic basis.

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

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 4, 2006, Public Law 109-295 was enacted and included language requiring DHS to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the information on the status of hurricane relief and recovery funds provided in FEMA's weekly reports to the Appropriations Committees from a governmentwide perspective, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of FEMA to reiterate to agencies performing mission assignments its policies on (1) the detailed information required in supporting documentation for reimbursements, and (2) the timeliness of agency billings.

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

 

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