Recent hurricanes, wildfires, and other events have highlighted the challenges the federal government faces in responding effectively to natural and man-made disasters—both in terms of immediate response and for long-term recovery efforts.
Response and Recovery
In 2017, 4 disasters—hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and the California wildfires—created unprecedented demand for federal disaster help. The federal government has provided at least $120 billion in supplemental funding for these disasters, as well as help with response and recovery.
Our report on the federal response to the 2017 hurricanes and wildfires found numerous challenges slowed FEMA’s work. For example, complex logistics for supplies due to distances from the mainland, and the need to provide a number of services due to widespread devastation and loss of power.
Watch our Facebook Live chat with Chris Currie, a Director in our Homeland Security and Justice team, discussing a range of issues related to federal disaster response, recovery, and resilience.
Cuppa GAO: Coffee With Our Experts, chat with Chris Currie, Director, Homeland Security and JusticeView the transcript
Strengthening Response and Building Resilience
Federal agencies obligated at least $277.6 billion for disaster assistance during fiscal years 2005 and 2014—and this number is likely to increase due to the rising number and costs of disasters and the increasing reliance on the federal government for disaster assistance. We have made numerous recommendations to FEMA to strengthen disaster response efforts.
Elevated Air Conditioning Unit in Greater Houston Area, October, 2017
- Disaster Resilience. FEMA has multiple grant programs that can help jurisdictions plan and implement disaster resilience projects. For example, FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant program helps jurisdictions affected by a disaster take actions to reduce future losses as they recover. However, we found that, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, jurisdictions faced a variety of challenges using these funds to maximize resilience. An investment strategy to better prioritize, integrate, and balance disaster resilience efforts would help.
- Federal Coordination. We’ve identified a number of ways that FEMA could improve its ability to manage the government’s response to disasters. For example, we recommended that FEMA collect information on the status of federal interagency efforts to address issues identified during national emergency-management exercises and actual disasters.
- Federal Funding. FEMA needs to conduct a more comprehensive assessment of a jurisdiction's ability to respond to and recover from a disaster without federal assistance. FEMA is also considering establishing a disaster deductible, which would require a predetermined level of financial or other commitment from a state or local government before FEMA would provide financial assistance under the Public Assistance program.
Related GAO Reports
Due to the unprecedented number of disasters in 2017, Congress authorized additional funding to assist states and localities in responding to and recovering from these disasters. Congress also authorized additional funding for federal audit agencies to conduct disaster-specific audits.
GAO was one of 22 agencies that received these funds. As of February 2019, GAO has spent $5 million out of the $14 million we received, and has issued the following reports:
2017 Disaster Contracting: Observations on Federal Contracting for Response and Recovery Efforts
GAO-18-335, Feb 28, 2018
2017 Hurricanes and Wildfires: Initial Observations on the Federal Response and Key Recovery Challenges
GAO-18-472, Sept 4, 2018
Homeland Security Grant Program: Additional Actions Could Further Enhance FEMA's Risk-Based Grant Assessment Model
GAO-18-354, Sep 6, 2018
Continuity of Operations: Actions Needed to Strengthen FEMA’s Oversight and Coordination of Executive Branch Readiness
GAO-19-18SU, November 26, 2018
2017 Disaster Contracting: Action Needed to Better Ensure More Effective Use and Management of Advance Contracts
GAO-19-93, Dec 6, 2018
Stay tuned—we are currently working on over 25 more.
GAO Disaster Funding Spent as of February 2019
- Chris Currie
- Director, Homeland Security and Justice