Improved Administration of Federal Public Disaster Assistance Can Reduce Costs and Increase Effectiveness

CED-82-98: Published: Jul 23, 1982. Publicly Released: Jul 23, 1982.

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GAO reviewed the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) administration of funds for public disaster assistance. The review was made to determine whether FEMA, which provided over $700 million in disaster assistance from 1979 through 1981, was consistently and effectively providing such assistance to state and local governments.

Under the Disaster Relief Act of 1974, public disaster assistance is intended to supplement resources available to state and local governments following major disasters. GAO found that FEMA provided public disaster assistance to state and local governments for certain expenditures which they had the capability of providing for themselves. Specifically, state and local governments were reimbursed for: (1) salaries of employees who were temporarily reassigned to assist in disaster relief efforts; (2) equipment temporarily diverted to disaster relief work; and (3) repair and reconstruction of uninsured public buildings. GAO does not believe that reimbursing these types of costs is consistent with the intent of supplemental assistance. GAO also found that state and local governments were not treated consistently in determining what expenses were eligible for reimbursement. This was largely due to the fact that FEMA relies on temporary staff to augment regional staff under the stressful conditions following a disaster. As a result, many immediate and subjective judgments regarding complicated cost eligibility situations are made. Many of these decisions have been subsequently reversed, creating dissatisfaction at the state and local levels with the way public disaster assistance is handled.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No further action is intended by the responsible committees on the proposed amendments to the Disaster Relief Act.

    Matter: Congress should amend the Disaster Relief Act of 1974 to require that, as a condition of receiving federal public disaster assistance, state and local governments obtain and maintain appropriate hazard and flood insurance as is reasonably available, adequate, and necessary to protect against the loss of public buildings, facilities, and equipment.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No further action is intended by the responsible committees on the proposed amendments to the Disaster Relief Act.

    Recommendation: The Director, FEMA, should seek passage of the legislative proposal that FEMA submitted to Congress, which would simplify its funding of projects up to $25,000. If successful, FEMA should consider seeking authorization to increase the project funding ceiling.

    Agency Affected: Federal Emergency Management Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FEMA adopted an on-the-job program to identify, train, and orient disaster assistant employees and the inspectors who prepare damage survey reports.

    Recommendation: The Director, FEMA, should develop an education and training program that will better prepare all participants associated with disaster response and recovery activities.

    Agency Affected: Federal Emergency Management Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FEMA published proposed regulations, which included changes to disaster assistance cost eligibility, and a new cost sharing formula in April 1986. The proposed regulations were withdrawn due to congressional opposition. FEMA plans no further action without congressional direction.

    Recommendation: The Director, FEMA, should revise FEMA rules and regulations to implement the task force's suggestions for simplifying the estimating of eligible project costs.

    Agency Affected: Federal Emergency Management Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FEMA established a task force, which included state and local officials, to review issues on establishing eligible project costs. When its mission was completed, FEMA disbanded the task force.

    Recommendation: The Director, FEMA, should establish a task force with representatives from FEMA national and regional offices to minimize the problems associated with estimating eligible project costs. The task force should consult with state and local governments and interested outside organizations.

    Agency Affected: Federal Emergency Management Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Other action taken by FEMA precludes the need to adopt this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Director, FEMA, should not reimburse state and local governments for regular employees and owned-equipment costs that are properly state and local obligations. These costs should instead be considered as part of the state and local cost-sharing commitment.

    Agency Affected: Federal Emergency Management Agency

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation was addressed in the proposed amendments to the Disaster Relief Act. FEMA was awaiting action on that proposed legislation, but no further action on the proposed amendments is intended by the responsible committees.

    Recommendation: The Director, FEMA, should make the results of FEMA cost-effectiveness analyses available to Congress and state and local government legislative bodies for their deliberation. These analyses should contain FEMA recommendations for funding hazard mitigation projects.

    Agency Affected: Federal Emergency Management Agency

 

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