WASHINGTON, DC – House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Republicans released a staff report finding recurring problems continue to hinder federal disaster response and recovery efforts. The report comes after the Committee’s multi-year investigation of federal programs intended to help communities recover from major natural disasters. The Committee began its oversight of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2016 after the Baton Rouge, Louisiana flood, and extended its review through the 2017 hurricane season.
Read the full report here.
- Congress established a framework for FEMA – acknowledging states, territories, tribes, and local governments should generally control their own recovery – through the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act).
- Throughout the Committee’s investigation, Members and staff traveled to Louisiana, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- The Committee obtained and reviewed over 17,000 pages of documents and communications from FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.
- Lack of preparedness at all levels of government, especially with respect to communications, continues to plague disaster response and recovery efforts.
- FEMA’s disaster assistance programs are too complicated, the reimbursement process is too slow, personnel turnover and other staffing issues contribute to confusion and delays, and some temporary housing programs are expensive, ineffective, and unreliable.
- Some of FEMA’s assistance programs, including Section 428 Alternative Procedures and the Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) program, have yet to be fully implemented or finalized – even though they were created after Hurricane Sandy more than five years ago.
- The Stafford Act framework proved inadequate in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands due to extensive damage from the hurricanes and the territories’ lack of preparedness.
- The Department of Homeland Security has systemically mismanaged federal civilian employee premium pay.
- Between 2013 and 2017, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Homeland Security released a series of reports which lacked objectivity and jeopardized the OIG’s independence.
- FEMA needs to continue to assess its workforce, with an emphasis on retaining qualified staff. Additionally, FEMA should ensure its workforce is capable of providing clear, consistent guidance to individual applicants and Public Assistance grant recipients and subrecipients.
- Ensuring resilience and redundancy in communications infrastructure must be a priority at all levels of government.
- State and local governments should play a larger role in the direct housing program.
- FEMA should continue to assess how to consolidate and streamline federal housing assistance programs, using an all-of-the-above strategy and incorporating additional state, local, territorial, and tribal involvement.
- States, territories, tribes, and local governments must strengthen their capacity to respond to and recover from a major natural disaster.
- Incorporating state and local input is important. FEMA should continue to explore and refine agreements with states to manage federal assistance programs, including housing programs.
- The 2017 hurricane season demonstrated the benefits of private-sector partnerships, the need for increased flexibility in federal recovery programs, and the potential value in further cooperation with states. FEMA should continue to pursue these partnerships.
- The Department of Homeland Security and its components must critically evaluate their workforce needs and implement reforms to ensure their employees do not exceed statutory limitations on premium pay.