Economic Development:

FEMA and the Corps Have Taken Steps to Establish a Task Force, but FEMA Has Not Assessed the Costs of Collecting and Reporting All Levee-Related Concerns

GAO-11-689R: Published: Jul 29, 2011. Publicly Released: Jul 29, 2011.

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Recent catastrophic flooding in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee caused levee breaches and forced mandatory evacuations; while record flooding along the Mississippi and lower Ohio River valleys prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to rupture the Bird's Point-New Madrid Levee, resulting in the flooding of more than 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland. The destruction is estimated to have caused hundreds of millions in property damages. These events underscore the importance of the nation's levee system and the role federal agencies play in assessing levee integrity and assisting communities in the aftermath of levee failure. Levees are found in approximately 22 percent of U.S. counties, where almost half of the U.S. population resides and are, for the most part, owned and maintained by the locality in which they are located. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is responsible for mapping flood-prone areas across the country and issuing levee accreditations for the purposes of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Under the NFIP regulations, FEMA requires that levee owners or community officials seeking to demonstrate the flood protection provided by a levee submit an engineering certification indicating that the levee complies with certain criteria. Flood insurance purchase is mandatory for all federally backed mortgages for properties FEMA designates as being located in a special flood hazard area, which are those areas that have an estimated 1 percent annual chance of flooding. If a levee receives accreditation from FEMA, homeowners who reside in the area protected by the levee are not subjected to the federal requirement to purchase flood insurance, but still retain the option to purchase flood insurance. Based upon the estimated flood risk reflected in FEMA's maps, FEMA makes flood insurance available to property owners in the 21,361 communities that participate in the NFIP. The Corps is responsible for much of the federal construction of flood control and storm protection infrastructure. As the result of its Map Modernization effort that began in fiscal year 2003, FEMA began an intensive remapping effort of its map inventory, including areas that contain levees. This remapping effort required communities and levee owners to validate that they met FEMA's accreditation requirements. While these requirements have been in place since 1968, levee owners have expressed difficulty in obtaining and paying for accreditation or re-accreditation and communities have communicated concerns to FEMA about the levee accreditation process. Language in the Senate committee report accompanying the the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2010 directed FEMA to establish an interagency task force with the Corps and OMB, to track, address and, where possible, resolve concerns stemming from FEMA mapping efforts in communities with issues related to flood control infrastructure, including levees. In its quarterly reports to Congress, FEMA has not included all the information the Senate committee report directed it to, such as a comprehensive list of all concerns that communities raised to FEMA. As result, we were unable to assess the number and status of responses to issues communities submitted to the task force. In response, we reviewed (1) the progress FEMA has made in creating an interagency task force to track, address, and resolve concerns stemming from FEMA mapping efforts in communities with issues related to flood control infrastructures; and (2) the extent to which FEMA has the capabilities to collect and report information on community mapping concerns related to flood control infrastructures as directed.

In summary, FEMA and the Corps have taken steps to establish the task force to address levee mapping issues in local communities. For example, in what they described as an initial step towards addressing the congressional concerns outlined in the Senate committee report, FEMA and the Corps developed a joint memorandum that describes their relationship and five planned actions. In addition, FEMA officials report that the task force does not have the capability to collect and report all contacts it has with communities that involve levee-related concerns, as directed by the Senate committee report. According to FEMA officials, developing and implementing a system that would enable the agency to collect and report this information would be unduly resource intensive. However agency officials have not completed an analysis to determine the costs of developing such a system, and documented and communicated that information to Congress. FEMA could better support its position that implementing a system to collect and report all levee-related community concerns would be unduly resource intensive if it performs and documents an analysis of the costs and timeframes needed to develop such a system. Furthermore, this analysis could include the identification of potential alternatives that might address the Senate committee report language in more cost-effective ways. To assist congressional decision makers, we are recommending that FEMA assess the costs and timeframes needed to develop a system to collect and report all contacts with communities that have levee-related concerns; identify, if applicable, cost effective alternatives to address the intent of the Senate committee report language; and document and communicate this information to Congress. To assist congressional decision makers, we recommend that the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency assess the costs and time frames needed to develop a system to collect and report all contacts with communities that have levee-related concerns; identify, if applicable, cost-effective alternatives for addressing the Senate committee report language; and document and communicate this information to Congress.

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

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To assist congressional decision makers, the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency should assess the costs and time frames needed to develop a system to collect and report all contacts with communities that have levee-related concerns; identify, if applicable, cost-effective alternatives for addressing the Senate committee report language; and document and communicate this information to Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response: Federal Emergency Management Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In the agency response, DHS reported that FEMA was only able to provide a cost estimate for its portion of the overall costs for the system, noting that developing a lifecycle cost estimate that covers the entire U.S. Army Corps of Engineers activity would take significant effort, given the extent of the their involvement in flood control. FEMA provided an updated estimate, covering the building of a system, its deployment, and the required maintenance over time, in the range of $4 to $6 million, noting that the estimate is only for the system to be built and managed for FEMA use. According to DHS, the system would likely be built around a commercial-off-the-shelf Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool that could track correspondence, engagements (meetings, phone calls, emails), customer contacts, key issues and concerns, and be able to handle reporting and trend analysis. According to the response, FEMA officials briefed staff from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees in February 2012 and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees acknowledged the level of effort necessary to provide a more comprehensive assessment. Further efforts to inform congressional stakeholders of FEMA's and the Corp's ongoing coordination included an October 2012 report entitled, "Continued Coordination between FEMA and USACE," prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). This report illustrates the level of continued coordination, communication, common understanding, and data exchange between FEMA and USACE leadership and staff. These actions meet the intent of our recommendation.

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