Levee Safety:

Army Corps and FEMA Have Made Little Progress in Carrying Out Required Activities

GAO-16-709: Published: Jul 26, 2016. Publicly Released: Jul 26, 2016.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Anne-Marie Lasowski Fennell
(202) 512-3841
fennella@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have made little progress in implementing key national levee-safety-related activities required in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. More specifically, the Corps has been working to develop a national levee inventory, but the agencies have taken no action on the remaining key national levee-safety-related activities for which they are responsible under the act, as shown in the table below. Agency officials identified resource constraints as a primary reason for their lack of progress in implementing such activities, and Corps officials said that not implementing these activities could potentially result in safety risks and federal financial risks for disaster relief, among other impacts. However, the agencies have no plan for implementing the remaining activities required by the act. Without a plan that includes milestones for accomplishing these activities using existing resources or requesting additional resources as needed, the agencies are unlikely to make progress implementing the activities under the act.

Implementation Status, as of June 2016, of Key National Levee-Safety-Related Activities in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014

Activity

Implementation status

Statutory deadline

Agency responsible

Reconvene the national committee on levee safety

No action

None

Corps

Continue to develop national levee inventory

Ongoing

None

Corps

Implement multifaceted levee safety initiative

No action

Several

Corps and FEMA

Submit a report on the state of U.S. levees, the effectiveness of the levee safety initiative, and any necessary congressional actions

No action

June 10, 2015 and biennially thereafter

Corps

Submit a report including recommendations on advisability and feasibility of a joint dam and levee-safety program

No action

June 10, 2017

Corps and FEMA

Submit a report including recommendations that identify and address legal liabilities of engineering levee projects

No action

June 10, 2015

Corps

Source: GAO analysis of Corps and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) information. | GAO-16-709

Why GAO Did This Study

Levees, which are man-made structures such as earthen embankments or concrete floodwalls, play a vital role in reducing the risk of flooding. Their failure can contribute to loss of lives or property, as shown by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It is estimated that there are over 100,000 miles of levees across the United States, many of which are owned or operated by nonfederal entities. The Corps and FEMA are the two principal federal agencies with authorities related to levee safety.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 requires the Corps and FEMA to take the lead on certain national levee-safety-related activities including developing a national levee inventory, which Congress authorized in 2007. The act also includes a provision for GAO to report on related issues. This report examines the Corps' and FEMA's progress in carrying out key national activities related to levee safety required in the act. GAO reviewed pertinent federal laws and executive orders as well as budget, planning, and policy documents from the Corps and FEMA; compared agency activities with federal internal control standards; and interviewed Corps and FEMA headquarters officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that the Corps and FEMA develop a plan that includes milestones for implementing the required national levee-safety-related activities using existing resources or requesting additional resources as needed. The agencies generally concurred with GAO's recommendation.

For more information, contact at or fennella@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: As of December 2016, GAO is awaiting action by the agency to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the Corps and FEMA carry out the national leveesafety- related activities required in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to direct the Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and that the Secretary of Homeland Security direct the FEMA Administrator to develop a plan, with milestones, for implementing these activities, using existing resources or requesting additional resources as needed. This plan could be posted on the Corps' website and monitored for progress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: As of December 2016, GAO is awaiting action by the agency to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the Corps and FEMA carry out the national leveesafety- related activities required in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to direct the Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and that the Secretary of Homeland Security direct the FEMA Administrator to develop a plan, with milestones, for implementing these activities, using existing resources or requesting additional resources as needed. This plan could be posted on the Corps' website and monitored for progress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Nov 15, 2017

Nov 2, 2017

Oct 30, 2017

Oct 24, 2017

Oct 23, 2017

Oct 18, 2017

Oct 16, 2017

Oct 12, 2017

Oct 2, 2017

Sep 18, 2017

Looking for more? Browse all our products here