Disaster Recovery:

FEMA Needs to Assess Its Effectiveness in Implementing the National Disaster Recovery Framework

GAO-16-476: Published: May 26, 2016. Publicly Released: May 26, 2016.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is responsible for implementing the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) and working in partnership with states as they play a lead role in the recovery process. As shown in the figure below, FEMA coordinates federal recovery stakeholders using six Recovery Support Functions—structures through which federal coordinating agencies provide assistance to state and local communities, before and after a disaster. FEMA's regional offices facilitate pre-disaster recovery planning at the state and local level, promote state adoption of NDRF principles into state pre-disaster recovery plans, and coordinate collaboration between federal, state, local, and tribal governments. Under the NDRF, states have primary responsibility for managing recovery in their communities, including developing pre-disaster recovery plans based on the principles and structures in the NDRF.

The National Disaster Recovery Framework's Recovery Support Functions and Corresponding Federal Coordinating Agencies

The National Disaster Recovery Framework's Recovery Support Functions and Corresponding Federal Coordinating Agencies

Through a number of outreach activities, such as workshops, technical assistance, and training, FEMA took action to promote state adoption of the NDRF. Nevertheless, officials in four of the five selected states GAO reviewed said they did not understand aspects of the NDRF, including how it related to other FEMA disaster programs and the level of federal technical assistance available. Moreover, GAO found that only two of the five states had developed pre-disaster recovery plans based on the NDRF. FEMA officials estimated that nationwide, more than three-quarters of states do not have NDRF-based recovery plans. Further, GAO found that although FEMA employs readiness assessments to track and assess its regional NDRF implementation efforts, it has not used these assessments to systematically analyze changes over time and across regional offices. As a result, FEMA has not used these assessments to help it identify management challenges, inform decision making, or identify best practices and lessons learned across its regional offices. Such analyses could help enhance outreach efforts among FEMA's regional offices and potentially improve implementation of the NDRF nationwide.

Why GAO Did This Study

Coordination challenges among the different levels of government have been a concern during past disaster recovery efforts. As part of the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006, Congress required FEMA to create a national disaster recovery strategy. In response, FEMA developed the NDRF—a comprehensive framework intended to facilitate coordination of recovery assistance across all levels of government.

GAO was asked to examine FEMA's implementation of the NDRF. This review assessed (1) the roles and responsibilities of FEMA and state emergency management offices in implementing the NDRF and (2) the extent to which FEMA has worked with selected states to implement the NDRF. GAO selected for review five states—Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, New York, and Oklahoma—based on factors including the range and type of disasters. GAO reviewed state recovery plans and other documents and interviewed state officials. GAO also reviewed statutes, FEMA plans and policies, and interviewed FEMA officials, including 5 of its 10 regional offices.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends, among other things, that FEMA conduct a systematic analysis of its assessments to determine the effectiveness of its NDRF outreach efforts; and develop and disseminate best practices and lessons learned for conducting NDRF outreach to FEMA regional offices. DHS concurred with the recommendations and described the actions it planned to take in response.

For more information, contact Michelle Sager at (202) 512-6806 or sagerm@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation and said it would take steps to implement it. In July 2017, FEMA officials told us they are coordinating classes that focus on the NDRF, whereby participants from the private sector, state and county governments, and state and county emergency management officials work with various federal agency personnel to share best practices and lessons learned from previous disasters. In March, 2018, FEMA officials told us the agency took steps to determine the extent of regional office efforts to help states implement the NDRF utilizing a number of education and outreach opportunities. Specifically, they said FEMA implemented an Interagency Recovery Readiness Assessment to continue to analyze support needed for its state and local partners. In addition, they told us that FEMA works with its regions to better understand how each is working to incorporate the NDRF. For example, FEMA officials told us that FEMA conducts bi-monthly coordination phone calls with regional office Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinators to insure they are continually exchanging lessons and promoting best practices based on ongoing experiences assisting states and localities to increase recovery readiness. In April 2018, we met with FEMA officials to discuss their actions and request documentation of their efforts. We are reviewing the supporting documentation FEMA subsequently sent to us and will continue to monitor this effort to see what additional actions the agency takes in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enable a more effective approach in working with states to adopt the NDRF, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator of FEMA to conduct a systematic analysis of the information generated from FEMA's readiness assessments to determine the extent of regional office efforts to help states implement the NDRF, including conducting education and outreach.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation and said it would take steps to implement it. According to FEMA, its Recovery Support Function Leadership Group initiated an information management workgroup, which shares best practices information as one of its objectives. According to FEMA officials, the agency is expanding implementation of the NDRF through training to a broad range of public and private sector leadership at the federal, state, and local levels. The training content is based on lessons from its readiness assessments and feedback from the field and from FEMA regional offices. In addition, FEMA officials told us that they continue to develop the Interagency Recovery Coordination Dashboard and Resource Library on Max.gov to enhance information sharing and collaboration for pre- and post-disaster operations. The dashboard, according to FEMA, gives state, local, tribal, and territorial personnel a resource library that includes, among other things, lessons learned from past disasters. FEMA officials also said they are utilizing case studies to capture and share lessons learned and has developed a system to collect case studies in interagency recovery for use in future NDRF Leadership Workshops and peer-to-peer knowledge transfer efforts. All case studies will be available on the Max.gov resource library according to FEMA. In April, we met with FEMA officials to discuss their actions and requested documentation. We are reviewing the supporting documentation FEMA subsequently sent to us and will continue to monitor this effort to see what additional actions the agency takes in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enable a more effective approach in working with states to adopt the NDRF, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator of FEMA to develop best practices and lessons learned with regard to conducting NDRF education and outreach to states based on the analysis of readiness assessments and create a mechanism to disseminate and share those best practices and lessons learned to FEMA regional offices.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation and said it would take steps to implement it. According to FEMA, to achieve greater integration of FEMA's field leadership components, FEMA's Field Operations Directorate (FOD) convened a Field Leadership Working Group of senior subject matter experts to conduct a mission analysis of FEMA's Field Leadership function (which includes Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinators as well as Federal Coordinating Officers and Incident Management Assistance Teams team leads). According to FEMA, the Working Group was preparing a Field Leader Manual (FLM) for review by FOD leadership. FEMA officials told us that the 2018 Hurricane season led to the deployment of many of FEMA's FOD leaders. These deployments allowed FOD leaders to experience first-hand the connection between regional implementation plans and FDRC performance plans and FEMA said that this knowledge is being integrated into edits of the FLM. In November 2018, FEMA officials told us that the Field Leadership Working Group moved onto the review and evaluation of the FLM. We will continue to monitor this effort to see what additional actions the agency takes in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enable a more effective approach in working with states to adopt the NDRF, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator of FEMA to clarify with regional offices and Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinators (FDRCs) the role of the regional implementation plans in FDRC performance plans and how they will be used to assess NDRF regional implementation efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation and said it would take steps to implement it. According to FEMA, the Field Leadership Working Group will implement the elements of this recommendation alongside efforts to clarify the role of the regional National Disaster Recovery Framework implementation plans. FEMA told us that the 2018 Hurricane season led to the deployment of many of FEMA's field leaders and these deployments allowed leaders to experience first-hand the connection between FDRC performance expectations and FEMA's organizational goals. According to FEMA, this knowledge is being integrated into edits of the Field Leader Manual (FLM). In November 2018, FEMA told us that the Field Leadership Working Group has now moved onto the review and evaluation of the FLM. We will continue to monitor this to see what additional actions the agency takes in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enable a more effective approach in working with states to adopt the NDRF, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator of FEMA to align the annual FDRC performance expectations with clearly defined organizational goals and priorities, consistent with key management practices.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

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