Federal Involvement in the Mount St. Helens Disaster:

Past Expenditures and Future Needs

RCED-83-16: Published: Nov 15, 1982. Publicly Released: Nov 15, 1982.

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GAO reviewed problems related to the Mount St. Helens disaster and attempted to determine whether the experience could be useful to the government in dealing with future disasters.

Within weeks of the disaster, Congress appropriated $946 million in response to requests from 12 federal agencies for cleanup and recovery funds. However, the appropriations language did not restrict the use of the funds to the Mount St. Helens disaster. GAO found that 6 of the 12 agencies had substantially overestimated their Mount St. Helens needs at a total of more than one-half million dollars and had used or were planning to use the excess funds on other disasters. Five other agencies had exhausted their disaster funds and had to reprogram funds from other activities, obtain additional appropriations, or suspend Mount St. Helens recovery efforts. GAO found that the Army Corps of Engineers' information supporting its future funding needs significantly overstated both the probable effects of future flooding around Mount St. Helens and resulting economic losses. GAO calculated that losses in the absence of river dredging and maintenance may be as high as $400 million, but would likely be only several million dollars, rather than the $1.9 billion estimated by the Corps.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Implementation of the recommendation depends upon the occurrence of a major, unusual, or long term disaster. Consequently, no action is expected at this time.

    Matter: Congress should direct that the statutory appropriations language clearly spell out the intended use of the disaster relief funds, the length of time the funds are to be committed or their intended use, and the disposition of any unused funds.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Implementation of the recommendation depends upon the occurrence of a major, unusual, or long term disaster. Consequently, no action is expected at this time.

    Matter: Congress should designate a lead agency such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate the use of and, if necessary, the sharing of specific major disaster funds among the Federal agencies.

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should approve funds only for emergency or other immediately needed maintenance work for dredging and flood control related to the Mount St. Helens disaster, until the Corps of Engineers provides more reliable information on its long-range needs for Mount St. Helens recovery.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Chief of Engineers to use more realistic assumptions relating to the probability of failure of the highway and railroad bridges over the Toutle River, and to the potential economic losses to the region if the bridges do fail, in making the Presidentially directed study of the long-term impacts and future funding needs for Mount St. Helens recovery.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

 

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