The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) leads the national effort to ensure that the federal government has the capacity to respond to disasters—i.e., determining what needs to be done, where, and by whom. We’ve identified a number of ways that FEMA could improve its ability to manage this effort.
We've found that FEMA needs to collect information on the status of federal interagency efforts to address issues identified during national emergency-management exercises and actual disasters. In response, FEMA is developing an approach to collect and report this information.
FEMA also provides resources to state, local, and tribal governments during disasters that require federal assistance. For example, FEMA can deploy Incident Management Assistance Teams (IMAT) to help coordinate federal support and evacuation assistance. Our work has identified the need for FEMA to better manage and retain employees that serve on these teams. Consequently, FEMA is taking steps to address compensation and work-life balance issues in order to retain experienced IMAT staff.
If you suspect fraud, waste, abuse, or mismanagement of federal funds related to disaster assistance, FraudNet can help you report your concerns to the right agency. Go to www.gao.gov/fraudnet and complete the complaint form.
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.
Video: GAO Facebook Live Chat on Disaster Assistance
Cuppa GAO: Coffee With Our Experts, chat with Chris Currie, Director, Homeland Security and Justice
Federal Preparedness Funding and Grant Programs for Disaster Recovery
Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security awarded over $40 billion to state and local governments between fiscal years 2002-2015 to enhance their capacity to respond to emergencies and disasters. However, we’ve found that FEMA needs to complete a national preparedness assessment to identify the potential costs for establishing and maintaining those capabilities at state and local governments. This would also help FEMA determine the resources federal agencies should provide during emergencies. In response, FEMA has begun annual state-level capability assessments.
Finally, FEMA helps fund recovery efforts after major disasters. FEMA obligated over $104 billion from the Disaster Relief Fund alone during Fiscal Years 2005 through 2014. When disaster assistance across 17 federal departments is include for this period, at least $278 billion have been obligated for disaster assistance. For example, FEMA provided $45.8 billion in funds through the Public Assistance program (PA) for states and communities to repair or replace publicly owned facilities during this period. GAO found that 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 PA program. FEMA has also recently redesigned the PA program to address past challenges and make the program easier for FEMA and grantee officials to manage; however, opportunities exist to enhance implementation of these program changes in all disaster recovery efforts, including for the recovery from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
To help reduce disaster losses and promote easier recovery, jurisdictions and individuals can undertake hazard mitigation and climate adaptation efforts in advance of disaster to increase disaster resilience for communities and critical infrastructure. FEMA has multiple grant programs that can help jurisdictions plan and implement hazard mitigation projects. Among these is the Hazard Mitigation Grant program, which is designed specifically to help jurisdictions who have been affected by a disaster take actions to reduce future losses as they recover. Other federal programs to address disaster recovery can also be used help promote disaster resilience, but we found that in the wake of Hurricane Sandy jurisdictions faced a variety of challenges using these funds to maximize resilience and that an investment strategy to better prioritize, integrate, and balance disaster resilience efforts across federal and nonfederal entities would help.
Region II Source: FEMA
GAO’s Key Reports on Disaster Response and Recovery
GAO-18-335: Published: Feb 28, 2018. Publicly Released: Feb 28, 2018.
The 2017 hurricane season was among the most devastating on record: Harvey dropped over 50 inches of rain. Irma was the strongest Atlantic hurricane on record, with peak winds of 185 miles per hour. Maria knocked out power grids in Puerto Rico and St. Croix. 25.8 million people were impacted. The U.S. mainland, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico sustained an estimated $265 billion dolla...
GAO-18-30: Published: Nov 8, 2017. Publicly Released: Nov 8, 2017.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) redesigned the Public Assistance (PA) grant program delivery model to address past challenges in workforce management, but has not fully assessed future workforce staffing needs. GAO and others have previously identified challenges related to shortages in experienced and trained FEMA PA staff and high turnover among these staff. These challenges often...
GAO-16-797: Published: Sep 22, 2016. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 2016.
During fiscal years 2005 through 2014, the federal government obligated at least $277.6 billion across 17 federal departments and agencies for disaster assistance programs and activities. This estimate constitutes total obligations identifiable to disaster activities across three categories: the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), disaster-specific programs and...
GAO-16-87: Published: Feb 5, 2016. Publicly Released: Feb 5, 2016.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has taken steps to implement, assess, and improve select disaster response programs, but GAO identified opportunities to strengthen program management. Specifically, GAO found that FEMA uses leading management practices in implementing its Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) program. For example, FEMA has aligned the mission of the US&R Program--to save li...
GAO-15-515: Published: Jul 30, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 2015.
During the Hurricane Sandy Recovery, five federal programs—the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Public Assistance (PA), Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), the Federal Transit Administration's Public Transportation Emergency Relief Program, the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers'...
GAO-15-20: Published: Dec 4, 2014. Publicly Released: Dec 19, 2014.
The departments that coordinate federal emergency support functions (ESF), in preparation for national disaster response, carry out their responsibilities in various ways, but the Secretary of Homeland Security's ability to assess ESF preparedness could be enhanced. ESF coordinators conduct a range of coordination, planning, and capability assessment activities. All 10 ESF coordinators across the...
GAO-12-838: Published: Sep 12, 2012. Publicly Released: Sep 12, 2012.
During fiscal years 2004-2011, the President received governors' requests for 629 disaster declarations and approved 539, or 86 percent, of which the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reported 71 percent were for severe storms. For these 539 declarations, FEMA obligated $80.3 billion, or an average of about $10 billion a year, from the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), as of January 31, 2012. A...