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Limiting the Federal Government's Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks

This information appears as published in the 2013 High Risk Report.

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Climate change is a complex, crosscutting issue that poses risks to many environmental and economic systems—including agriculture, infrastructure, ecosystems, and human health—and presents a significant financial risk to the federal government. Among other impacts, climate change could threaten coastal areas with rising sea levels, alter agricultural productivity, and increase the intensity and frequency of severe weather events. As observed by the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), the impacts and costliness of weather disasters—resulting from floods, drought, and other events such as tropical cyclones—will increase in significance as what are considered “rare” events become more common and intense due to climate change.[1] In addition, less acute changes in the climate, such as sea level rise, could also result in significant long-term impacts. According to the National Research Council (NRC)—the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering—although the exact details cannot be predicted with certainty, there is a clear scientific understanding that climate change poses serious risks to human society and many of the physical and ecological systems upon which society depends, with the specific impacts of concern, and the relative likelihood of those impacts, varying significantly from place to place and over time.[2]

These impacts will result in increased fiscal exposure for the federal government in many areas, including, but not limited to its role as (1) the owner or operator of extensive infrastructure such as defense facilities and federal property vulnerable to climate impacts, (2) the insurer of property and crops vulnerable to climate impacts, (3) the provider of data and technical assistance to state and local governments responsible for managing the impacts of climate change on their activities, and (4) the provider of aid in response to disasters. For example, disaster declarations have increased over recent decades, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has obligated over $80 billion in federal assistance for disasters declared during fiscal years 2004 through 2011.[3] In addition, on December 7, 2012, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) within the Executive Office of the President requested $60.4 billion in federal resources for Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts to “build a more resilient Nation prepared to face both current and future challenges, including a changing climate.” To prepare adequately in the event of such a disaster, federal agencies need to work with state and local governments and volunteer agencies to produce and evaluate information so that they can fully assess risk and make appropriate response and recovery decisions.

Climate change adaptation—defined as adjustments to natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climate change—is a risk-management strategy to help protect vulnerable sectors and communities that might be affected by changes in the climate. Adaptation measures to protect infrastructure, for example, include raising river or coastal dikes to protect infrastructure from sea level rise, building higher bridges, and increasing the capacity of storm water systems. State and local authorities are responsible for the planning and implementation of many types of infrastructure projects, and decisions at these levels of government can drive the federal government’s fiscal exposure. While implementing adaptive measures may be costly, there is a growing recognition that the cost of inaction could be greater and—given the government’s precarious fiscal position—increasingly difficult to manage given expected budget pressures which will constrain not just future ad hoc responses but other federal programs as well. As stated in a 2010 NRC report, increasing the nation’s ability to respond to a changing climate can be viewed as an insurance policy against climate change risks.[4]

Furthermore, according to NRC and USGCRP the nation’s vulnerability can be reduced by limiting the magnitude of climate change through actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions.[5] GAO recognizes that (1) the federal government has a number of efforts underway to decrease domestic greenhouse gas emissions and (2) the success of greenhouse gas emissions reduction efforts depends in large part on cooperative international efforts. However, limiting the federal government’s fiscal exposure to climate change risks will present a challenge no matter the outcome of domestic and international efforts to reduce emissions, in part because greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere will continue altering the climate system for many decades, according to NRC and USGCRP.[6]

[1] Thomas R. Karl, Jerry M. Melillo, and Thomas C. Peterson, eds. Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, (Cambridge University Press: 2009). This document, referred to as the 2009 National Climate Assessment, is in the process of being updated. USGCRP coordinates and integrates the activities of 13 federal agencies that conduct research on changes in the global environment and their implications for society. USGCRP began as a presidential initiative in 1989 and was codified in the Global Change Research Act of 1990 [Pub. L. No. 101-606, § 103 (1990)]. USGCRP-participating agencies are the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Interior, Health and Human Services, State, and Transportation; the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution.

[2] NRC, Committee on America’s Climate Choices, America’s Climate Choices (Washington, D.C.: 2011). See also NRC, Climate Change: Evidence, Impacts, and Choices. Answers to common questions about the science of climate change. (Washington, D.C.: 2012). For more information about NRC’s recent reports on climate change at (last accessed Jan. 25, 2013).

[3] GAO, Federal Disaster Assistance: Improved Criteria Needed to Assess a Jurisdiction’s Capability to Respond and Recover on Its Own, GAO-12-838 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 12, 2012). As discussed in this report, FEMA criteria for recommending that a jurisdiction receive disaster assistance play a role in the increasing number of declared disasters.

[4] NRC, America’s Climate Choices: Panel on Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change, Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change (Washington, D.C.: 2010).

[5] In the atmosphere, greenhouse gases absorb and reemit radiation within the thermal infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum. This is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect, or the warming of Earth’s atmosphere. In order of their prevalence by volume, the primary greenhouse gases are water vapor (H2O), CO2, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and ozone (O3).

[6] The focus of this high-risk area may evolve over time to the extent that federal climate change programs and policies change.

The federal government is not well organized to address the fiscal exposure presented by climate change, partly because of the inherently complicated, crosscutting nature of the issue. GAO reported in 2009 that while policymakers increasingly viewed climate change adaptation as a risk-management strategy to protect vulnerable sectors and communities that might be affected by changes in the climate, the federal government’s emerging adaptation activities were carried out in an ad hoc manner and were not well coordinated across federal agencies, let alone with state and local governments.[1] Subsequently, GAO’s 2011 report on climate change funding found no coherent strategic government-wide approach to climate change.[2]

The federal government would be better positioned to respond to the risks posed by climate change if federal efforts were more coordinated and directed toward common goals. With regards to providing climate-related information, NRC observed that no single government agency or centralized unit could perform all the required functions, and that coordination of agency roles and regional activities is a necessity. In 2009, GAO recommended that the appropriate entities within the Executive Office of the President, such as the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), in consultation with relevant federal agencies, state and local governments, and key congressional committees of jurisdiction, develop a strategic plan to guide the nation’s efforts to adapt to climate change, including the establishment of clear roles, responsibilities, and working relationships among federal, state, and local governments.[3][4] In written comments, CEQ generally agreed with the recommendations of the report, noting that leadership and coordination is necessary within the federal government to ensure an effective and appropriate adaptation response and that such coordination would help to catalyze regional, state, and local activities. Some actions have subsequently been taken to improve federal adaptation efforts—including the development of an interagency climate change adaptation task force.[5] However, a 2012 NRC report describes the task force as having largely been confined to convening representatives of relevant agencies and programs for dialogue, without mechanisms for making or enforcing important decisions and priorities.[6]

GAO’s May 2011 report on climate change funding also found that federal officials do not have a shared understanding of strategic government-wide priorities.[7] Funding for climate change activities reported by OMB increased from $4.6 billion in 2003 to $8.8 billion in 2010. In addition, OMB reported $26.1 billion for climate change programs and activities provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and $7.23 billion in tax expenditures in 2010 related to climate change, which are federal income tax provisions that grant preferential tax treatment to encourage emissions reductions by, for example, providing tax incentives to promote the use of renewable energy.[8] To improve the coordination and effectiveness of federal climate change programs and activities, GAO recommended in May 2011 that the appropriate entities within the Executive Office of the President clearly establish federal strategic climate change priorities, including the roles and responsibilities of the key federal entities, taking into consideration the full range of climate-related activities within the federal government. GAO requested comments on a draft of the May 2011 report from the Chair of CEQ, the Director of OMB, and the Director of OSTP. They did not provide official written comments to include in GAO’s report and have not directly addressed this recommendation.

Federal agencies have made some progress on better organizing across agencies, within agencies, and among different levels of government; however, the need for more comprehensive and systematic strategic planning is illustrated by the increased fiscal exposure for the federal government in many areas, including, but not limited to the following:

Federal government as property owner. The federal government owns and operates hundreds of thousands of buildings and facilities that could be affected by a changing climate. For example, in its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Department of Defense (DOD) recognized the risk to its defense facilities posed by climate change, noting that:

climate change will pose challenges for civil society and DOD alike, particularly in light of the nation’s extensive coastal infrastructure. In 2008, the National Intelligence Council judged that more than 30 U.S. military installations were already facing elevated levels of risk from rising sea levels. DOD’s operational readiness hinges on continued access to land, air, and sea training and test space. Consequently, the Department must complete a comprehensive assessment of all installations to assess the potential impacts of climate change on its missions and adapt as required.

The federal government also manages about 650 million acres, or 29 percent of the 2.27 billion acres of U.S. land, for a wide variety of purposes, such as recreation, grazing, timber, and the conservation of fish and wildlife. In 2007, GAO recommended that that the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and the Interior develop guidance for resource managers that explains how they are expected to address the effects of climate change, identifies how managers are to obtain any site-specific information that may be necessary, and reflects best practices shared among the relevant agencies.[9] In commenting on a draft of this report, the three departments generally agreed with the recommendation. In 2009, the Secretary of the Interior issued an order, amended in 2010, to address the impacts of climate change on U.S. water, land, and other natural and cultural resources that the department manages. The order directed, among other things, Interior bureaus and agencies to further develop a network of collaborative Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, comprised of public and private agencies, working to provide the science and technical expertise needed to support conservation planning at landscape scales and to promote collaboration among their members in defining shared conservation goals. GAO has ongoing work related to adapting infrastructure and the management of federal lands to a changing climate.

Federal insurance programs. Two important federal insurance efforts—the National Flood Insurance Program and the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation—are based on conditions, priorities, and approaches that were established decades ago and are not well suited to addressing emerging issues like climate change. The National Flood Insurance Program, administered by FEMA, has been on GAO’s High Risk List since March 2006 because of concerns about its long-term financial solvency and related operational issues.[10] In March 2012, GAO reported on the federal crop insurance programs’ important role in managing the risk of farming losses caused by natural disasters like the 2012 drought and the associated federal costs.[11]

GAO’s March 2007 report assessing the financial risks to the National Flood Insurance Program and the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation found that their exposure to weather-related losses had grown substantially.[12] Among other things, the report contrasted the experience of private and public insurers. GAO found that many major private insurers proactively incorporated some elements of climate change into their risk management practices. In contrast, GAO noted that the agencies responsible for the nation’s two key federal insurance programs had done little to develop the kind of information needed to understand their long-term exposure to climate change and had not analyzed the potential impacts of an increase in the frequency or severity of weather-related events on their operations. GAO recommended that the Secretaries of Agriculture and Homeland Security analyze the potential long-term fiscal implications of climate change for the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation and the National Flood Insurance Program, respectively, and report their findings to Congress. The two agencies agreed with the recommendation and contracted with experts to study their programs’ long-term exposure to climate change, but the results of the work have not yet been reported to Congress. Since GAO’s 2007 report, the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 created a technical mapping advisory council, which must produce a “Future Conditions Risk Assessment and Modeling Report” with recommendations on how to ensure (1) rate maps incorporate best available climate science, and (2) FEMA uses the best available methodology to consider the impact of rising sea levels and future development on flood risk.[13] The act requires the council to submit a risk assessment report to FEMA, which FEMA is then required to incorporate into its ongoing program to review and update rate maps.

In June 2011, GAO reported on other actions needed to improve the administration of the National Flood Insurance Program.[14] This report found that external factors continue to complicate the administration of the National Flood Insurance Program and affect its financial stability. Specifically, as it relates to climate change and sea level rise, FEMA, historically, has not been authorized to account for long-term erosion when updating flood maps used to set premium rates for the National Flood Insurance Program. Flood maps are supposed to accurately estimate the likelihood of flooding in specific areas given certain characteristics including elevation and topography, but they can quickly become inaccurate because of changes from long-term erosion, particularly in coastal areas.[15] This could prove problematic in areas susceptible to sea level rise. Not accurately reflecting the actual risk of flooding increases the likelihood that even full-risk premiums will not cover future losses and adds to concerns about the National Flood Insurance Program’s financial stability. Consequently, among a range of other recommendations, GAO in June 2011 presented a matter for congressional consideration to authorize the National Flood Insurance Program to account for long-term flood erosion in its flood maps.[16] The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 requires FEMA to use, among other things, information on topography, coastal erosion areas, changing lake levels, future changes in sea levels, and intensity of hurricanes in updating its flood maps. While these provisions respond to GAO’s suggestion to Congress, their ultimate effectiveness will depend on their implementation by FEMA. It is too early to evaluate such efforts, but GAO plans to examine the National Flood Insurance Program in the near future.

Technical assistance to state and local governments. Federal efforts are beginning to shift their focus to adaptation and to the provision of information to state and local decision makers so they can make more informed decisions about the fiscal exposure posed by potential climate impacts. As GAO reported in October 2009, challenges from insufficient site-specific data—such as local temperature and precipitation projections—make it hard for state and local officials to justify the current costs of adaptation efforts for potentially less certain future benefits.[17] For example, planning decisions involving infrastructure projects require large up front capital investments, and the long lead time and life of such projects requires adaptive decisions to be made well before potential climate change effects are discernable. The federal government annually invests billions of dollars in infrastructure projects that state and local governments prioritize and supervise. For example, state and local governments control zoning decisions and make decisions about how to build certain types of critical infrastructure that are vulnerable to climate change, such as roads and bridges. Challenges providing technical assistance to state and local decision makers generally fit into two main categories: (1) translating climate data—such as projected temperature and precipitation changes—into information that officials need to make decisions, and (2) the difficulty in justifying the current costs of adaptation with limited information about future benefits.

In GAO’s October 2009 recommendation that the appropriate entities within the Executive Office of the President develop a strategic plan for adaptation, GAO stated that the plan should, among other things, identify mechanisms to increase the capacity of federal, state, and local agencies to incorporate information about current and potential climate change impacts into government decision making. USGCRP’s 2012-2021 strategic plan for climate change science, released in April 2012, recognizes this need by identifying enhanced information management and sharing as a key objective. USGCRP is pursing the development of a global change information system to support coordinated use and application of federal climate science. USGCRP plans to leverage existing tools, services, and portals from the USGCRP agencies to develop a “one-stop shop” for accessing global change data and information, according to the strategic plan. GAO has ongoing work related to these issues.

In addition, gaps in satellite coverage, which could occur as soon as 2014, are expected to affect the continuity of climate and space weather measurements important to developing the information needed by state and local officials.[18] According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration program officials, a satellite data gap would result in less accurate and timely weather forecasts and warnings of extreme events—such as hurricanes, storm surges and floods. Such degradation in forecasts and warnings would place lives, property, and the nation’s critical infrastructure in danger. Given the importance of satellite data to weather forecasts, the likelihood of significant gaps, and the potential impact of such gaps on the health and safety of the U.S. population and economy, GAO has concluded that the potential gap in weather satellite data is a high-risk area and added it to the High Risk List this year. The importance of such data was recently highlighted by the advance warnings of the path, timing, and intensity of Superstorm Sandy. GAO made several recommendations to establish mitigation plans for pending satellite gaps, and GAO has ongoing work assessing related agency efforts.

Disaster aid. Federal disaster aid functions as the insurance of last resort in certain circumstances, increasing the federal government’s fiscal exposure to a changing climate. Weather-related events—some of which have been observed and are projected by NRC and USGCRP to become more frequent and intense due to climate change—have cost the nation tens of billions of dollars in damages over the past decade. In 2012, for example, Superstorm Sandy caused tens of billions of dollars in damages to buildings, utilities, transportation systems, and other infrastructure. Whatever is not covered by insurance or built to be resilient to such events increases the federal government’s implicit fiscal exposure through federal disaster relief programs. Fiscal constraints will make it more difficult for the federal government to respond effectively in the future, and such expenses could affect resources available for other key government programs.

As GAO reported in September 2012, disaster declarations have increased over recent decades, and FEMA has obligated over $80 billion in federal assistance for disasters declared during fiscal years 2004 through 2011.[19] The growing number of disaster declarations—a record 98 in fiscal year 2011 compared with 65 in 2004—has contributed to increased federal disaster costs. FEMA has had difficulty implementing longstanding plans to assess national preparedness capabilities to prepare for and respond effectively to these disasters. Its efforts have been repeatedly delayed and are not yet complete.[20] In addition, FEMA’s indicator for determining whether to recommend that a jurisdiction receive disaster assistance is artificially low because it does not accurately reflect the ability of state and local governments to respond to disasters. GAO’s 2012 report and others have identified challenges in the determination of costs to be borne by federal, state, and local governments or the private sector in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disasters of all types.[21] In September 2012, GAO recommended, among other things, that FEMA develop a methodology to more accurately assess a jurisdiction’s capability to respond to and recover from a disaster without federal assistance. FEMA concurred with this recommendation.

In the event of a major disaster, federal funding for response and recovery comes from the Disaster Relief Fund managed by FEMA and disaster aid programs of other participating federal agencies. These programs are provided emergency supplemental appropriations to cover the costs of damages. The federal government does not budget for these costs, and without proper budgeting and forecasting to account for these events, the federal government runs the risk of facing a large fiscal exposure at any time. Further increasing the challenge faced by the federal government in managing such fiscal exposures is that annual budget requests and appropriations for disaster relief do not include all known costs from still open disaster declarations, in particular those from catastrophic disasters.[22] This has led to requests for supplemental appropriations not only for new disasters, but also for costs related to ongoing, past disasters. As a result, decision makers may not have a comprehensive view of overall funding claims and trade-offs.

[1] GAO, Climate Change Adaptation: Strategic Federal Planning Could Help Government Officials Make More Informed Decisions, GAO-10-113 (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 7, 2009).

[2] GAO, Climate Change: Improvements Needed to Clarify National Priorities and Better Align Them with Federal Funding Decisions, GAO-11-317 (Washington, D.C.: May 20, 2011).

[3] CEQ coordinates federal environmental efforts and the development of environmental policies and initiatives. The Office of Science and Technology Policy was established by statute in 1976 to serve as a source of scientific and technological analysis and judgment for the President with respect to major policies, plans, and programs of the federal government, among other things.

[4] GAO-10-113.

[5] Executive Order 13514 on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance calls for federal agencies to participate actively in the already existing Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force. The task force, which began meeting in Spring 2009, is co-chaired by CEQ, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and OSTP, and includes representatives from more than 20 federal agencies and executive branch offices. The task force was formed to assess key steps needed to help the federal government understand and adapt to climate change.

[6] NRC, Committee on a National Strategy for Advancing Climate Modeling, Board on Atmospheric Studies and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Sciences, A National Strategy for Advancing Climate Modeling (Washington, D.C.: 2012).

[7] GAO-11-317.

[8] American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Pub. L. No. 111-5 (2009).

[9] GAO, Climate Change: Agencies Should Develop Guidance for Addressing the Effects on Federal Land and Water Resources, GAO-07-863 (Washington, D.C.: Aug. 7, 2007).

[10] The potential losses generated by the National Flood Insurance Program have created substantial financial exposure for the federal government and U.S. taxpayers. While Congress and FEMA intended that the National Flood Insurance Program be funded with premiums collected from policyholders and not with tax dollars, the program was, by design, not actuarially sound. As of November 2012, FEMA owes the Treasury approximately $20 billion—up from $17.8 billion pre-Superstorm Sandy—and had not repaid any principal on the loan since 2010.

[11] GAO, Crop Insurance: Savings Would Result from Program Changes and Greater Use of Data Mining, GAO-12-256 (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 13, 2012). The federal government’s crop insurance costs have increased in recent years—rising from an average of $3.1 billion per year from fiscal years 2000 through 2006 to an average of $7.6 billion per year from fiscal years 2007 through 2012—and are projected to increase further.

[12] GAO, Climate Change: Financial Risks to Federal and Private Insurers in Coming Decades Are Potentially Significant, GAO-07-285 (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 16, 2007).

[13] Pub. L. No 112-141, tit. II, subtit. A, § 100215(d) (2012).

[14] GAO, FEMA: Action Needed to Improve Administration of the National Flood Insurance Program, GAO-11-297 (Washington, D.C.: June 9, 2011).

[15]For more information about FEMA’s challenges related to flood maps, see GAO, FEMA Flood Maps: Some Standards and Processes in Place to Promote Map Accuracy and Outreach, but Opportunities Exist to Address Implementation Challenges, GAO-11-17 (Washington, D.C.: Dec. 2, 2010).

[16] GAO-11-297 also contained two other related matters for congressional consideration: (1) allowing the National Flood Insurance Program to charge full-risk premium rates to all property owners and providing assistance to some categories of owners to pay those premiums and (2) clarifying and expanding FEMA’s ability to increase premiums or discontinue coverage for owners of certain repetitive loss properties.

[17] GAO-10-113.

[18] See, for example, GAO, Environmental Satellites: Focused Attention Needed to Mitigate Program Risks, GAO-12-841T (Washington, D.C.: June 27, 2012). See also GAO, Environmental Satellites: Strategy Needed to Sustain Critical Climate and Space Weather Measurements, GAO-10-456 (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 27, 2010).

[19] GAO-12-838.

[20] GAO, Managing Preparedness Grants and Assessing National Capabilities: Continuing Challenges Impede FEMA Progress, GAO-12-526T (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 20, 2012). See also GAO, Disaster Response: Criteria for Developing and Validating Effective Response Plans, GAO-10-969T (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 22, 2010).

[21] Since September 11, 2001, the federal government has provided billions of dollars to state and local governments for planning, equipment, and training to enhance the capabilities of first responders to respond to both smaller-scale natural disasters and terrorist attacks. However, the federal financial assistance provided in the last several years has not been guided by a clear risk-based strategic plan that outlines the role of federal, state, and local governments in identifying, enhancing, maintaining, and financing critical first responder capabilities for emergencies. See GAO, 21st Century Challenges: Reexamining the Base of the Federal Government, GAO-05-325SP (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 1, 2005).

[22] GAO, Disaster Cost Estimates: FEMA Can Improve Its Learning From Past Experience and Management of Disaster-Related Resources, GAO-08-301 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 22, 2008). See also GAO, Supplemental Appropriations: Opportunities Exist to Increase Transparency and Provide Additional Controls, GAO-08-314 (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 31, 2008).

The federal government needs a strategic approach with strong leadership and the authority to manage climate change risks that encompasses the entire range of related federal activities and addresses all key elements of strategic planning. Such an approach includes the establishment of strategic priorities and the development of roles, responsibilities, and working relationships among federal, state, and local entities. Recognizing that each department and agency operates under its own authorities and responsibilities—and can therefore be expected to address climate change in different ways relevant to its own mission—existing federal efforts have encouraged a decentralized approach, with federal agencies incorporating climate-related information into their planning, operations, policies, and programs. While individual agency actions are necessary, a centralized strategy driven by a government-wide plan is also needed to reduce the federal fiscal exposure to climate change, maximize investments, achieve efficiencies, and better position the government for success. Even then, such approaches will not be fully sufficient unless also coordinated with decisions at the state and local levels that drive much of the federal government’s fiscal exposure. The challenge is to develop a cohesive approach at the federal level that also informs action at the state and local levels.

In addition to addressing these broad strategic challenges, there are specific areas among many that may require attention including:

  • Federal flood and crop insurance programs. This entails developing the information needed to understand and manage federal insurance programs’ long-term exposure to climate change and analyze the potential impacts of an increase in the frequency or severity of weather-related events on their operations. There is a need to consider climate-related factors such as sea level rise and long-term erosion when updating flood maps, for example. GAO has ongoing work related to climate change and federal insurance programs.
  • Technical assistance to state and local governments. This involves developing a government-wide approach for providing (1) the best available climate-related data for making decisions at the state and local level and (2) assistance for translating available climate-related data into information that officials need to make decisions. GAO has ongoing work on the climate-related information needs of local infrastructure decision makers.
  • Environmental satellites. Potential gaps in satellite data need to be effectively addressed. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration must make difficult decisions on which technical, programmatic, and management steps it will implement to ensure that its preliminary plans to address potential gaps in satellite data are viable when needed. GAO has ongoing work assessing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s actions on its satellite programs to determine whether its plans are viable. GAO has concluded that the potential gap in weather satellite data is a high-risk area and added it to the High Risk List this year.
  • Disaster aid. FEMA needs improved criteria to assess a jurisdiction’s capability to respond and recover on its own, and also to better apply lessons from past experience when developing disaster cost estimates so decision makers have a comprehensive view of overall funding claims and trade-offs. GAO has ongoing work related to disaster assistance and budgeting for emergencies.
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