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United States Government Accountability Office: 
Washington, DC 20548: 

April 10, 2009: 

The Honorable Joseph I. Lieberman: 
The Honorable Susan M. Collins: 
Ranking Member: 
Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: 
United States Senate: 

Subject: Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding: 
Perspectives and Observations: 

In November 2005, the President issued an executive order establishing 
the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding (OFC) 
with the broad mission of supporting recovery efforts following 
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Given their vast size and impact, these 
storms presented unprecedented rebuilding challenges to federal, state, 
and local officials which, combined with concerns about the lack of 
coordination in government's initial response to the disaster, 
precipitated the creation of the Office of the Federal Coordinator. 
[Footnote 1] To assist in your ongoing oversight responsibilities of 
the recovery of the Gulf Coast, you asked us to: (1) describe the 
functions the Coordinator has performed, (2) obtain stakeholder 
perspectives regarding the office's operation, and (3) provide 
observations on issues to be considered for moving forward. We provided 
your staff with summaries of our findings this past February to answer 
these questions as well as our observations, including extending the 
term of OFC. We have since updated some of the information in our 
briefing (see enclosure I), using information that has subsequently 
become available including the President's decision to extend the 
operations of OFC through September 30, 2009. This letter transmits 
those updated slides. 

To conduct our work, we obtained and reviewed key documents from the 
Office of the Federal Coordinator and conducted interviews with senior 
officials. In addition, we interviewed officials from other federal 
agencies with significant roles in the recovery effort, including the 
Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, and 
the Department of Housing and Urban Development. To learn about the 
experiences and opinions of state, local, and nongovernmental officials 
regarding the office, we interviewed senior representatives from the 
Louisiana Recovery Authority, the Louisiana Recovery School District, 
the Mississippi Governor's Office of Recovery and Renewal, the City of 
New Orleans Office of Recovery Management, and Catholic Charities- 
Archdiocese New Orleans. Finally, to provide context and criteria for 
our review, we examined previous work by GAO and the relevant disaster 
recovery and organizational management literature. We conducted this 
performance audit from February 2009 through March 2009 in accordance 
with generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards 
require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, 
appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and 
conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence 
obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions 
based on our audit objectives. 

We provided DHS with a draft of this report on March 26, 2009. In its 
oral response, DHS indicated that it had no substantive comments. The 
Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding provided us 
with minor technical clarifications, which we made where appropriate. 

As agreed with your offices, unless you publicly announce the contents 
of this report earlier, we plan no further distribution until 10 days 
from the date of this letter. We will then send copies to the Secretary 
of Homeland Security, the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast 
Rebuilding, and interested congressional committees. We will make 
copies available to others on request. In addition, the report will be 
available on GAO's Web site at [hyperlink,]. If you 
or your staff have questions regarding this report, please contact me 
at (202) 512-6806 or by email at Contact points 
for our Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be 
found on the last page of this report. Individuals making key 
contributions to this report include Peter Del Toro, Assistant 
Director; Robert Yetvin; and Michael O'Neill. 

Signed by: 

Stanley J. Czerwinski: 
Director, Strategic Issues: 


[End of section] 

Enclosure: Briefing Slides: 

Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding: 
Perspectives and Observations: 

Briefing to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental 

Purpose of Briefing: 

I. Describe the role and key functions carried out by the Office of the 
Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding (OFC). 

II. Present perspectives of key stakeholders. 

III. Provide observations on issues to be addressed as OFC moves 

Scope and Methodology: 

For this work we: 

* Analyzed key OFC policy and program documents and interviewed
senior OFC officials. 

* Interviewed senior officials from agencies and organizations that had
significant interactions with OFC during Gulf Coast recovery including: 

- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA);
- The Army Corps of Engineers;
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD);
- The Louisiana Recovery Authority;
- The Louisiana Recovery School District;
- The Mississippi Governor’s Office of Recovery and Renewal;
- Office of Recovery Management, City of New Orleans; and; 
- Catholic Charities-Archdiocese New Orleans. 

* Reviewed past work by GAO and others on practices for effective
collaboration and management. 

Bottom Line: 

I. OFC’s Functions: 

* OFC has performed its role through several key functions including 1) 
addressing recovery obstacles, 2) sharing information, 3) advising top
officials, and 4) building networks. 

II. Perspectives of Key Stakeholders: 

* Stakeholders we spoke with told us that coordination among federal 
agencies was still needed to implement recovery programs. Most believed
that OFC should continue to play this coordination role. 

* Stakeholders were generally positive about how OFC carried out many 
of its coordination functions. However, some stakeholders were 
concerned about OFC’s efforts to intervene in issues involving specific 
recovery programs such as FEMA’s Public Assistance (PA) Grant program. 

* Stakeholders generally viewed OFC’s staff as being hard working and
competent, but they noted that the office faced challenges with 
initially obtaining—and potentially retaining—key knowledge and skills. 

III. Observations on Issues to be Addressed Moving Forward: 

* Federal Coordinator’s role and authority. 

* Human capital strategies to obtain and retain key staff and preserve


* Government response to catastrophe: Concerns about the lack of 
coordination in government’s response to the massive destruction caused 
by the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes preceded the creation of OFC. 

* Creation of coordination office unusual, but not unprecedented: 
Existing federal entities, primarily FEMA, are typically tasked with 
federal support for long-term disaster recovery. A newly established 
formal federal coordination entity for disaster recovery was last used 
after the 1964 Alaska Earthquake. 

* Decision to focus on priority areas: In 2007, OFC decided to focus 
its efforts on four priority areas where it determined the federal
government would likely have the greatest impact: 1) levees, 2) 
temporary housing, 3) public housing, and 4) FEMA’s PA program. OFC 
officials told us that the majority of their time was spent on issues
related to FEMA’s programs, often at the request of state and local 

* Executive order extended and OFC funded through fiscal year 2009: On 
February 20, 2009, President Obama signed an executive order extending 
OFC’s authority through September 30, 2009. Congress appropriated $3 
million, $2.7 million, and $1.9 million for fiscal years 2007, 2008, 
and 2009 respectively. 

* Organization structure and staff: The overall organizational 
structure of the office stayed the same despite some changes over time.
Total office staff levels ranged from 8 to 26 people after OFC’s initial
start-up period. 

* Interagency council also established: The President also established 
a cabinet-level Gulf Coast Recovery and Rebuilding Council to review 
and provide guidance to the President to further recovery efforts. This 
council never met but its functions were assumed by the National 
Economic Council (NEC). OFC provided support to the NEC. Officials told 
us that the functions of the NEC were transferred to the Homeland 
Security Council in April 2008. 

Reporting requirements: 

The House Appropriations Committee directed OFC to provide quarterly 
reports to the Committees on Appropriations outlining monthly progress 
on ongoing initiatives, factors delaying progress, and the goals and
expectations against which progress is being measured.[Footnote 2] OFC 
prepared four quarterly reports describing initiatives the office has
taken to further the recovery. 

Executive order gave OFC a broad mandate to: 

* lead the process of developing principles governing federal recovery 

* serve as principal point of contact within the executive branch with
key stakeholders, and, 

* monitor the implementation of specific recovery policies and 

Figure: OFC in Context: 

[Refer to PDF for image: organizational chart] 

President of the United States: 

* The Secretary of Homeland Security: 
- Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding. 

November 2005 - April 2008: 

* Assistant to the President for Economic Policy; 
- Gulf Coast Recovery and Rebuilding Council/National Economic Council 
(supports the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast 

April 2008 - February 2009: 

* Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and 
- Homeland Security Council (supports the Office of the Federal 
Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding). 

Source: GAO analysis of the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf 
Coast Rebuilding. 

[End of figure] 

Figure: OFC's Organizational Structure: 

[Refer to PDF for image: organizational chart] 

OFC Leadership: 
Provides strategic direction and operational management; includes 
positions of the Federal Coordinator and Chief of Staff; 

* Policy: 
Sets OFC's policy agenda and provides analytic support for a wide range 
of Gulf Coast policy issues, including public infrastructure, housing, 
and hurricane protection (3-4 staff); 

* Legislative Affairs: 
Conducts outreach to Congress and directs OFC's work on key policy 
issues, including a recent report on housing issues; 

* Public Liaison: 
Builds partnerships with key organizations in and outside the 
government. For example, worked with federal and local officials to 
highlight transparency and public accountability issues (1-2 staff); 

* Communications: 
Prepares press releases as well as "talking points" for Administration 
officials (2 staff); 

* Regional Office: 
Played key role in stakeholder sessions to address unresolved 
rebuilding issues, including tracking the commitments made. The 
regional office also provides support for Gulf Coast visits by key 
federal officials, such as identifying key stakeholder organizations to 
include in discussions (2-6 staff). 

Note: Staff numbers represent ranges during the existence of OFC after 
its initial start-up. The include DHS Full time Equivalents and federal 
agency detailees. 

Source: GAO analysis and Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf 
Coast Rebuilding. 

[End of figure] 

OFC’s Key Functions: 

To further Gulf Coast recovery, OFC worked with a large number of 
stakeholders while performing four key functions: 

* Identifying and Addressing Obstacles to Recovery; 

* Communicating and Information Sharing; 

* Advising and Advocating; 

* Building Networks. 

I. OFC’s Key Functions: 

Identifying and Addressing Obstacles: 

OFC has sought to remove obstacles to recovery by persuading federal 
and state stakeholders to make decisions on stalled rebuilding projects.
The office does this by both coordinating across agencies and by seeking
to intervene in program-specific issues. 

Selected examples: 

* OFC worked with local governments in hard-hit areas such as New 
Orleans and Hancock County, Mississippi, to identify the most critical
Public Assistance program rebuilding projects with still unresolved
funding issues. 

* The office organized several “workout sessions” that brought together 
key federal, state, and local stakeholders to work on resolving specific
problems that were stalling recovery projects. After each session, OFC 
worked with FEMA to develop a detailed matrix of the agreements 
reached, tasks to be performed, stakeholders responsible for 
implementation, and target dates for completion. 

Communicating and Information Sharing: 

With a broader view of Gulf Coast recovery issues, OFC has shared 
information on the status of recovery with key stakeholders in the 
administration, Congress, and at the state and local levels. 
Selected examples: 

* OFC both served as a focal point for communicating the 
administration’s position on a wide range of recovery issues and
provided information concerning conditions on the ground to top
officials including the President and department heads. 

* The office provided quarterly status reports to Congress as well as
e-mail updates on recovery progress. 

* OFC worked closely with FEMA to implement a Transparency Initiative
in February 2008, consisting of a Web-based tool that allowed 
stakeholders and the public to track the status of selected public
infrastructure rebuilding projects in the Gulf Coast. Officials told us 
this has been useful to a wide range of stakeholders, including the 
general public. 

Advising and Advocating: 

OFC has worked to support Gulf Coast recovery efforts by raising 
recovery issues to top administration officials and advocating for 
policies and funding to address needs and challenges throughout the 
recovery process. 

Selected examples: 

* OFC advised the senior officials on the President’s Homeland Security 
Council to reverse the latter’s initial position regarding repayment 
terms for Louisiana’s share of levee reconstruction costs. The council 
then recommended, and the President subsequently approved, a 30-year 
repayment schedule, thereby freeing up critical state funds for current 
rebuilding needs. 

* The office advocated within the administration and Congress for 
additional Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) monies to address a 
critical gap in funding for Louisiana’s Road Home program, contributing 
to supplemental appropriations. 

Building Networks: 

OFC repeatedly brought a wide range of stakeholders together to talk 
about issues of concern through forums and roundtables, and thereby 
helped to foster and expand connections among members of the Gulf
Coast recovery community. 

Selected examples: 

* OFC held roundtable discussions with federal, state, local, and
nongovernmental participants to share their experiences and build 
connections. These included sessions with clinicians and community 
mental health providers in New Orleans as well as meetings with private-
sector leaders on education and public safety. 

* The office partnered with the U.S. Attorney and the federal Inspector
General Council to connect members of the federal, state, and local 
accountability communities who sought to engage in an ongoing dialogue 
about efforts and strategies to deter and combat fraud and corruption. 

Perspectives of Key Stakeholders: 

In our interviews, stakeholders raised the following issues: 

* Continuing need for OFC in the near term; 

* Concerns about OFC’s role in resolving program-specific
issues; and; 

* Concerns with challenges OFC faced with initially obtaining—and 
potentially retaining—key knowledge and skills. 

II. Stakeholder Perspectives: 

Continuing Need for OFC in Near Term: 

Moving forward, the majority of stakeholders we spoke with said that, 
roughly 3½ years after the storms, the Gulf Coast recovery process 
continues to require federal coordination. 

Coordination concerning program implementation is likely to demand an 
increasing proportion of federal attention compared to funding and 
policy development. 

Most stakeholders believed that OFC, in some form, should continue to 
perform the functions of federal coordination in the near term. 

Concerns about OFC’s Role in Intervening to Resolve Program-Specific 

For three of the four functions identified above, most stakeholders 
were positive about OFC’s performance. However, stakeholders had 
concerns when OFC tried to resolve problems by directly intervening in 
program-specific matters such as FEMA’s Public Assistance (PA) program. 
All levels of government faced extensive rebuilding challenges because 
of the magnitude of the hurricanes. In this environment, OFC sought to 
directly resolve problems involving PA funding. According to OFC 
officials, this was done at the request of state and local officials. 
Stakeholder concerns largely stemmed from differences in perceptions of 
OFC’s role. 

FEMA viewed OFC’s proper role as being responsible for broad cross-
agency concerns, such as alleviating inconsistencies across federal 
programs or looking for program gaps, rather than intervening in 
specific programs such as the PA program. 

FEMA officials believed that OFC’s actions were outside the scope of a 
coordination office. FEMA noted that they had their own processes to 
resolve stalled projects and the expertise on PA program rules. 

For their part, several state and local stakeholders were open to OFC’s 
involvement in program-specific issues because they wanted certain 
difficulties they were facing to be resolved. However, some 
stakeholders expressed concerns that because of OFC’s lack of 
decisionmaking authority, the office was sometimes not able to help 
resolve matters—especially regarding PA program funding issues. 
Furthermore, some state and local stakeholders claimed that OFC may 
have unintentionally slowed down problem resolution by increasing the 
number of meetings and the amount of paperwork involved. 

Obtaining, and Potentially Retaining, Key Knowledge and Skills: 

Stakeholders generally told us that they viewed OFC’s staff as being 
hard working and competent. However, several noted that the office did 
not have staff with certain needed knowledge and skills early on. For 
example, stakeholders told us that OFC did not initially have staff 
with a detailed understanding of key recovery programs such as PA and 
CDBG. To address this gap, OFC obtained detailees from the agencies 
that run these programs. A HUD official said that this approach was 
effective in quickly increasing the knowledge level of the office 
regarding its CDBG program. 

Some stakeholders identified the recent presidential transition as 
presenting both challenges and opportunities. Among the challenges are 
the loss of existing OFC leadership and the possible loss of 
knowledgeable staff. However, stakeholders also told us that OFC staff 
have developed many valuable relationships with key players in the 
recovery process. If these relationships can be maintained, OFC could 
play a stabilizing role as changes occur in the leadership of many of 
the other agencies and programs involved in Gulf Coast recovery. 

Observations on Issues to be Addressed as OFC Moves Forward: 

Federal Coordinator’s role and authorities: 

The President’s recent decision to issue an executive order extending 
the current office until September provides a valuable opportunity to 
assess and clarify the office’s role over the coming months. During 
this time, OFC can work with other federal agencies to clarify and 
obtain agreement on its role and how it can be most helpful to all 

III. Observations: 

* Human capital strategies to obtain and retain key staff and preserve 

In the near term, the Federal Coordinator can take steps to preserve 
knowledge such as creating mechanisms to retain staff as well as 
capture and share the knowledge and relationships of departing 
employees. Should the office not continue beyond September 2009, this 
activity will facilitate the transfer of coordination functions 
smoothly to other federal entities. 

If the office does continue beyond September 2009, it can develop human 
capital strategies to obtain and retain key staff given the importance 
of having staff with knowledge of key recovery programs and effective 
relationships with stakeholders. 

[End of briefing slides] 


[1] OFC was established by Executive Order 13,390, which was set to 
expire in November 2008. 70 Fed. Reg. 67,327 (Nov. 1, 2005). The order 
was amended by Executive Order 13,463 which extended the office through 
February 28, 2009. 73 Fed. Reg. 22,047 (Apr. 18, 2008). On February 20, 
2009, the President signed Executive Order 13,504 which extended the 
office through September 30, 2009. 74 Fed. Reg. 8431. 

[2] H.R. Rep. No. 110-181, at 25 (2007). 

[End of section] 

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