Budget Issues:

FEMA Needs Adequate Data, Plans, and Systems to Effectively Manage Resources for Day-to-Day Operations

GAO-07-139: Published: Jan 19, 2007. Publicly Released: Jan 19, 2007.

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Much of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) funding is provided in supplemental appropriations when a disaster is declared, but funds to staff, manage, and operate other FEMA programs and underlying support functions--what GAO refers to as its day-to-day operations--compete with other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and federal priorities for limited resources. In this environment, FEMA must strategically plan for and manage its day-to-day operations to ensure they efficiently and effectively support the agency's disaster relief mission. To analyze this issue, GAO examined resource trends and management related to FEMA's day-to-day operations from fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2005.

FEMA experienced near-constant organizational change from fiscal years 2001 through 2005 that caused considerable flux in FEMA's resources. During this period, the most significant change occurred in March 2003 when FEMA transitioned from an independent agency to a component of the newly created DHS. From the beginning of fiscal year 2003 through fiscal year 2005, a significant number of programs and their associated funding moved into and out of FEMA. Although the amounts nearly balanced, the movement was disruptive to operations and created uncertainty about the availability of resources. FEMA also contributed to DHS start-up costs and ongoing expenses, which reduced funds available for FEMA's operating expenses. Though FEMA would have incurred some of these costs as an independent agency, evidence suggests that FEMA may have been assessed a disproportionate amount relative to several larger DHS entities. While all of this affected resources for FEMA's day-to-day operations, the extent cannot be fully understood because FEMA does not have adequate information on how resources are aligned with those operations. Such information could be used to improve planning and management and provide greater accountability to Congress and the public. Although these shifting resources created challenges, the way FEMA managed its existing resources compounded problems. Notably, FEMA lacks a strategic workforce plan and related human capital strategies--such as succession planning or a coordinated training effort--which are integral to managing resources. They enable an agency to define staffing levels, identify the critical skills needed to achieve its mission, and eliminate or mitigate gaps between current and future skills and competencies. FEMA also lacks business continuity plans for its day-to-day operations, which puts support for the disaster-relief mission at increased risk. Even FEMA staff's strong sense of mission is no substitute for a plan and strategies for action.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2008, we provided appropriations committee staff a budget justification data sheet that examined the $957.4 million request for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's(FEMA) fiscal year 2009 budget for Management and Administration. Although Pub. L. 109-295 required FEMA to submit a strategic human capital plan in April 2007, FEMA had not yet done so. In our data sheet, we acknowledged that although funding for additional permanent staff may be needed, the lack of a strategic workforce plan hindered FEMA's ability to ensure the right number of positions in the right places, with the right skills for the future of the agency. Thus, we suggested that Congress consider restricting fund for the Cadre of on-Call Response Employees (CORE) conversions and new positions with the Management and Administration account---until FEMA provided the Committees with the required strategic workforce plan. Accordingly, the FY 2009 appropriations for FEMA restricted the funds until the Committee received an implementation plan for converting CORE staff. A staff member from the Senate Appropriations Committee confirmed the use of the budget justification data sheet in the restriction. A FEMA official confirmed that FEMA provided the required elements in the Congress in May 2008 in its workforce strategy.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of FEMA to develop business continuity plans for the day-to-day operations to ensure that critical program functions are maintained at a sufficient level when permanent full-time employees are called to respond to a disaster. These plans should include clear guidelines on who holds a mission-critical position at headquarters and, therefore, either cannot be deployed for disaster-relief efforts or needs to have alternates designated to provide backup in their absence. FEMA should consider formally cross-training and preparing ancillary workforce members (e.g., contractors, employees in other job titles/descriptions, retirees) to maintain daily functionality in the presence of anticipated staffing shortages when a disaster strikes.

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

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2008, we provided appropriations committee staff a budget justification data sheet that examined the $957.4 million request for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's(FEMA) fiscal year 2009 budget for Management and Administration. Although Pub. L. 109-295 required FEMA to submit a strategic human capital plan in April 2007, FEMA had not yet done so. In our data sheet, we acknowledged that although funding for additional permanent staff may be needed, the lack of a strategic workforce plan hindered FEMA's ability to ensure the right number of positions in the right places, with the right skills for the future of the agency. Thus, we suggested that Congress consider restricting fund for the Cadre of on-Call Response Employees (CORE) conversions and new positions with the Management and Administration account---until FEMA provided the Committees with the required strategic workforce plan. Accordingly, the FY 2009 appropriations for FEMA restricted the funds until the Committee received an implementation plan for converting CORE staff. A staff member from the Senate Appropriations Committee confirmed the use of the budget justification data sheet in the restriction. A FEMA official confirmed that FEMA provided the required elements in the Congress in May 2008 in its workforce strategy.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of FEMA to, in responding to the strategic workforce planning requirements included in the Post-Katrina Emergency Reform Act of 2006, Pub. L. No. 109-295 Title VI, apply the key principles of strategic workforce planning discussed in our report on such planning efforts (GAO-04-39), including establishing strategic direction; assessing the number of employees and critical skills that FEMA needs; conducting succession planning to identify, develop, and select people to ensure an ongoing supply of successors; and establishing training and development requirements and tracking systems to ensure that staff have the necessary training to carry out their day-to-day and disaster response functions.

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

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2008, we provided appropriations committee staff a budget justification data sheet that examined the $957.4 million request for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's(FEMA) fiscal year 2009 budget for Management and Administration. Although Pub. L. 109-295 required FEMA to submit a strategic human capital plan in April 2007, FEMA had not yet done so. In our data sheet, we acknowledged that although funding for additional permanent staff may be needed, the lack of a strategic workforce plan hindered FEMA's ability to ensure the right number of positions in the right places, with the right skills for the future of the agency. Thus, we suggested that Congress consider restricting fund for the Cadre of on-Call Response Employees (CORE) conversions and new positions with the Management and Administration account---until FEMA provided the Committees with the required strategic workforce plan. Accordingly, the FY 2009 appropriations for FEMA restricted the funds until the Committee received an implementation plan for converting CORE staff. A staff member from the Senate Appropriations Committee confirmed the use of the budget justification data sheet in the restriction. A FEMA official confirmed that FEMA provided the required elements in the Congress in May 2008 in its workforce strategy.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of FEMA to define what resources--staff and funding--are associated with FEMA's day-to-day operations, link the investment of these resources to achievement of its disaster relief mission, and collect sufficient data in a way that enables managers to monitor progress and support resource priorities for these operations.

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

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2007, GAO reported that opportunities exist for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to improve the financial information it provides to Congress in support of its oversight role. GAO recommended that FEMA ensure that its financial information provided to Congress is sufficient for the following oversight activities: facilitating an understanding of the agency's operations; informing the development, analysis, and debate of alternative policies; supporting a historical perspective from which to evaluate future plans, budgets, and spending proposals; assessing FEMA's accountability for actual results when compared to budgets; and evaluating program costs. Since issuance of the GAO report, FEMA has provided significantly more data to Congress. These data are provided through numerous spend plans and budget related information briefs, as well as through the annual Congressional Justifications (CJs). For example, in its FY2011 Congressional Justification, FEMA reports the status of several congressionally requested studies, reports, and evaluations that include an update on a nationwide plan review, a report on potential cost efficiencies, and various spend plans.

    Recommendation: In carrying out these recommendations, FEMA should work with Congress to ensure that FEMA has provided Congress with the information necessary to conduct its oversight role. Specifically, FEMA should work with Congress to ensure that its financial information is sufficient for use in facilitating an understanding of the agency's operations; informing the development, analysis, and debate of alternative policies; supporting a historical perspective from which to evaluate future plans, budgets, and spending proposals; assessing FEMA's accountability for actual results when compared to budgets; and evaluating program costs.

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

 

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