Federal Emergency Management Agency:

Additional Planning and Data Collection Could Help Improve Workforce Management Efforts

GAO-15-437: Published: Jul 9, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 9, 2015.

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(404) 679-1875
curriec@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is taking steps to address various long-standing workforce management challenges identified by GAO. Since 2007, GAO has found that FEMA faced challenges in completing and integrating its strategic workforce planning efforts. As a result, GAO recommended that FEMA develop a plan that identifies workforce gaps and includes performance metrics for monitoring progress. GAO has also identified other workforce challenges at FEMA, including low employee morale. FEMA has not yet resolved these challenges and fully addressed GAO's workforce-related recommendations but, according to agency officials, plans to do so through several efforts:

  • a new incident workforce planning model—pending final approval—that will determine the optimal mix of workforce components to include in FEMA's disaster workforce,
  • a new Human Capital Strategic Plan to be finalized in September 2015—that will help ensure it has the optimal workforce to carry out its mission, and
  • an executive-level steering committee to help ensure that these workforce planning efforts are completed and integrated.

FEMA's ability to address long-standing challenges hinges on its ability to effectively coordinate with agency stakeholders and integrate its workforce-related new efforts into a strategic human capital management approach. Given that the agency's efforts are ongoing, it is too soon to determine whether these challenges will be addressed.

DHS Surge Capacity Force: Employees of DHS components who volunteer to deploy to provide support to FEMA in the event of a disaster.

FEMA Corps: Temporary national service participants of the National Civilian Community Corps who complete FEMA service projects to complement its disaster-related efforts.

FEMA faces challenges in implementing and managing its two new workforce components: the Surge Capacity Force and the FEMA Corps. For example, as of January 2015, the Surge Capacity Force was at 26 percent of its staffing target of 15,400 personnel, and FEMA does not have a plan for how it will increase the number of volunteers to meet its goals. Developing such a plan would help ensure that the Surge Capacity Force has a sufficient number of personnel available to support FEMA's efforts. Further, GAO found that FEMA does not collect full cost information, including the costs of FEMA Corps background investigations and the salaries and benefits of Surge Capacity Force volunteers who are paid by DHS components while they are deployed. Collecting this information would help provide a more accurate accounting of the cost of conducting both programs. Further, FEMA does not assess all aspects of program performance because it does not have performance measures that correspond to all program goals. The agency also does not collect reliable performance data, or have an automated system for comparing performance against FEMA Corps project goals. Doing so would better enable FEMA to assess whether it is meeting its program goals.

Why GAO Did This Study

FEMA historically has relied on both permanent and temporary disaster-related employees to respond to presidentially declared disasters. FEMA's total workforce increased by about 144 percent—7,558 to 18,449 employees—from fiscal year 2005 to September 2014. In 2012, FEMA deployed two new components to its disaster response workforce—the DHS Surge Capacity Force and the FEMA Corps. However, an after-action report from Hurricane Sandy indicated that FEMA exhausted its staff resources during its response and that FEMA faced additional challenges related to its disaster response workforce.

GAO was asked to examine FEMA's efforts to manage its current and future workforce needs. This report addresses (1) FEMA's actions to address long-standing workforce challenges, and (2) the challenges that have affected FEMA's new disaster workforce components. GAO reviewed after-action reports, strategic plans, and program documentation for FEMA Corps and the Surge Capacity Force. GAO also interviewed agency officials and conducted 23 nongeneralizable focus groups with members of FEMA's workforce who provided important insights.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends, among other things, that FEMA develop a plan to increase Surge Capacity Force volunteer recruitment and collect additional cost and performance information for its two new workforce components. DHS concurred with the recommendations and identified related actions the department is taking to address them.

For more information, contact Christopher Currie at (404) 679-1875 or curriec@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 2016, FEMA officials provided information on the agency's plans to increase Surge Capacity Force registrations including timeframes, responsible organizations, and resources required to help the agency and other DHS components recruitment efforts. These actions should better enable DHS to meet its staffing goals for the Surge Capacity Force.

    Recommendation: To better enable DHS to meet its Surge Capacity Force staffing goals and improve its capacity for disaster response, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the FEMA Administrator to develop a plan or strategy for improving recruitment efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2016, FEMA officials provided documentation of their calculation of the cost of FEMA Corps background checks for FEMA Corps for fiscal year 2016 and documentation of the estimated total staff cost for the hours agency staff spent in direct supervision of FEMA Corps using a survey they developed for that purpose. These efforts provide a basis for FEMA to account for the costs associated with its new FEMA Corps workforce and should inform FEMA decision making on allocation of its disaster workforce resources and help program officials determine the extent to which the program is achieving the significant cost savings that was a primary goal and justification for establishing the program.

    Recommendation: To better position DHS to evaluate the effective use of its resources and to ensure that DHS is aware of the total costs of administering and managing the FEMA Corps, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the FEMA Administrator to collect and account for all costs associated with this new workforce, including the costs of background checks and staff time spent managing FEMA Corps teams.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2016, FEMA officials provided an analysis of salary and benefit information of Surge Capacity Force volunteers from other DHS components. They provided calculations of the average deployment costs for Surge Capacity Force volunteers from other DHS component agencies. Having this information should help FEMA better track and report on the full costs of deploying and managing the Surge Capacity Force and better assess actual cost savings resulting from the program to determine the most cost-effective size and mix of FEMA?s disaster workforce and its deployment to disasters.

    Recommendation: To better position DHS to evaluate the effective use of its resources and to ensure that DHS is aware of the total costs of administering and managing the Surge Capacity Force, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the FEMA Administrator to collect and account for all costs associated with this new workforce, including the costs of employee salaries and benefits of Surge Capacity Force volunteers when deployed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2016, FEMA officials provided documentation of seven finalized program performance measures covering the areas of recruitment, retention, conversion, cost per member, member satisfaction, sponsor satisfaction, and disaster participation they planned to use for future assessments of the FEMA Corps program. They also provided a copy of a new exit survey in FEMA created for fiscal year 2017 (and beyond) to provide program performance data to assess workforce satisfaction and engagement from FEMA Corps members (regardless of whether they successfully complete their term of service or not). Finally, FEMA officials provided benchmarks for the completion of the Corporation for National and Community Service information system development project that will automate the process by which managers can assess project completion reports against service project requests. According to the benchmarks, system testing will take place during fiscal year 2017 and the system is expected to be launched during the second quarter of fiscal year 2018. Taken together, these steps should better enable FEMA to track and evaluate the performance of the FEMA Corps program.

    Recommendation: To better enable FEMA to track and evaluate the performance of the FEMA Corps program, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the FEMA Administrator to (1) establish performance measures for all program goals, such as the rates of employment among program graduates in the emergency management field, and the rates of deployment of FEMA Corps members during disaster response; (2) collect complete and reliable program performance data, such as tracking the number of FEMA Corps members who leave the program early for failing background investigations, and obtaining survey responses from as many participants of the FEMA Corps as possible, including those who have left the program or not graduated; and (3) develop, in conjunction with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, a plan, with milestones, to create an automated system or process by which managers can assess project completion reports against service project requests.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2016, FEMA officials provided documentation of program performance measures including rates of deployment of Surge Capacity Force members during disaster response. In January 2017, FEMA officials provided documentation of a revised SCF survey instrument designed to include a data field that captures additional feedback (positive or negative) concerning the end of the deployment. FEMA officials said they planned to use the Deployment Tracking System (DTS) to disseminate the SCF post deployment survey notices and use the system's direct messaging capability to measure SCF responder contact and ensure responders indicate their intentions to complete the survey, which can be downloaded from DTS in pdf format. Once completed, survey results can be fed to a centrally managed email account for tabulation and analysis which should provide more clarity into the personnel who do not complete the survey and why (for example, whether they decline the survey initially or fail to complete the survey in the allotted timeframe). Taken together, these steps should better enable FEMA to track and evaluate the performance of the Surge Capacity Force program.

    Recommendation: To better enable FEMA to track and evaluate the performance of the Surge Capacity Force program, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the FEMA Administrator to: (1) establish performance measures for all program goals, such as the rates of deployment of Surge Capacity Force members during disaster response; and (2) collect complete and reliable program performance data, such as obtaining survey responses from as many participants of the Surge Capacity Force as possible.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

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