The Federal Workforce:

Additional Steps Needed to Take Advantage of Federal Executive Boards' Ability to Contribute to Emergency Operations

GAO-07-515: Published: May 4, 2007. Publicly Released: Jun 4, 2007.

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The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which provides direction to the federal executive boards (FEBs), is now emphasizing that in the post-9/11 environment, the boards have a transformed emergency support role. The report discusses the boards' emergency preparedness roles and responsibilities and their potential role in preparing for and responding to pandemic influenza. GAO selected 14 of the 28 FEBs for review because they coordinate the greatest number of federal employees or had recent emergency management experience.

Located outside Washington, D.C., in 28 cities with a large federal presence, the federal executive boards (FEB) are interagency coordinating groups designed to strengthen federal management practices, improve intergovernmental relations, and participate as a unified federal force in local civic affairs. Created by a Presidential Directive in 1961, the boards are composed of the federal field office agency heads and military commanders in their cities. Although membership by agency heads on the boards is required, active participation is voluntary in practice. The boards generally have staff of one or two full-time personnel, including an executive director. The FEBs have no congressional charter and receive no congressional appropriation but rather rely on voluntary contributions from their member agencies. Although the boards are not intended to be first responders, the regulations that guide the FEBs state that emergency operations is one of their functions. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the FEBs have designated emergency preparedness, security, and employee safety as a core function of the boards and are continuing to work on a strategic plan that will include a common set of performance standards for their emergency support activities. All of the selected FEBs were performing emergency activities, such as organizing preparedness training, and FEB representatives and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials reported that these activities mutually advanced their missions. The FEBs, however, face key challenges in carrying out their emergency support role. First, their role is not defined in national emergency plans. According to several FEMA officials, FEBs could carry out their emergency support role more effectively if it was included in national emergency management plans. The framework within which the FEBs operate with member agencies and OPM also poses challenges in holding the boards accountable for their emergency support function. In addition, the funding sources for the boards are uncertain, affecting their ability to plan for and commit to providing emergency support services. Despite these challenges, the nature of pandemic influenza, which presents different concerns than localized natural disasters, makes the FEBs a particularly valuable asset in pandemic preparedness and response. Many of the selected boards had already hosted pandemic preparedness events, which included their member agencies and local community organizations. With the greatest burden of pandemic response resting on the local communities, the FEBs' outreach and their ability to coordinate across organizations suggest that they may be an important resource in preparing for and responding to a pandemic.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help improve the ability of the FEBs to contribute to the nation's emergency preparedness efforts, particularly given the threat of pandemic influenza and consistent with OPM's ongoing efforts in this regard, OPM should continue its efforts to establish performance measures and accountability for the emergency support responsibilities of the FEBs before, during, and after an emergency event that affects the federal workforce outside Washington, D.C.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Federal Executive Boards' (FEB) strategic plan for fiscal years 2008 through 2012 includes operational goals with associated measures for its emergency preparedness, security, and employee safety line of business. The data intended to support these measures includes methods such as stakeholder and participant surveys, participant lists, and emergency preparedness test results.

    Recommendation: To help improve the ability of the FEBs to contribute to the nation's emergency preparedness efforts, particularly given the threat of pandemic influenza and consistent with OPM's ongoing efforts in this regard, OPM should initiate discussion with the Department of Homeland Security and other responsible stakeholders to consider the feasibility of integrating the FEB emergency support responsibilities into the established emergency response framework, such as the National Response Plan.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2008, the Federal Executive Boards (FEB) were included in the National Response Framework section on regional support structures that have the potential to contribute to development of situational awareness during an emergency. In addition, in August 2007, the FEBs were integrated into the National Continuity Policy Implementation Plan issued by the White House Homeland Security Council.

    Recommendation: To help improve the ability of the FEBs to contribute to the nation's emergency preparedness efforts, particularly given the threat of pandemic influenza and consistent with OPM's ongoing efforts in this regard, once OPM completes defining emergency support expectations for the FEBs, OPM should work with FEMA to develop a memorandum of understanding, or some similar mechanism, that formally defines the FEB role in emergency planning and response.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In addition to integrating the Federal Executive Boards into national emergency plans, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Office of Personnel Management signed a memorandum of agreement on August 1, 2008. Among other things, the memorandum states that the federal executive boards and FEMA will work together in carrying out their respective roles in the promotion of the National Incident Management System and the National Response Framework.

    Recommendation: To help improve the ability of the FEBs to contribute to the nation's emergency preparedness efforts, particularly given the threat of pandemic influenza and consistent with OPM's ongoing efforts in this regard and as an outgrowth of the above efforts and to help ensure that the FEBs can provide protection of the federal workforce in the field, OPM, as part of its strategic planning process for the FEBs, should develop a proposal for an alternative to the current voluntary contribution mechanism that would address the uncertainty of funding sources for the boards.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2008, the Office of Personnel Management announced that it had won approval from the Office of Management and Budget to implement a new funding mechanism for the Federal Executive Boards (FEB) nationwide. The new funding mechanism establishes a mandatory charge to be paid by the agencies served by a particular board, based on the number of the employees in each board's jurisdiction area.

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