Actions Taken to Implement the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006

GAO-09-59R: Published: Nov 21, 2008. Publicly Released: Dec 8, 2008.

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William O. Jenkins, Jr
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On August 29, 2005, and in the ensuing days, Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma devastated the Gulf Coast region of the United States. Hurricane Katrina alone affected more than a half million people located within approximately 90,000 square miles spanning Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, ultimately resulted in over 1,600 deaths, and has spawned one of the largest natural disaster relief and recovery operations in U.S. history. Almost 3 years prior to the hurricanes, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) largely in response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Homeland Security Act merged 22 disparate agencies and organizations into the new department, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The Homeland Security Act generally charged DHS with securing the homeland against terrorist attacks and carrying out the functions of all transferred entities, including acting as a focal point regarding natural and man-made crises and emergency planning. Hurricane Katrina severely tested disaster management at the federal, state, and local levels and revealed weaknesses in the basic elements of preparing for, responding to, and recovering from any catastrophic disaster. Beginning in February 2006, reports by the House Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the White House Homeland Security Council, the DHS Inspector General, DHS, and FEMA all identified a variety of failures and some strengths in the preparations for, response to, and initial recovery from Hurricane Katrina. The Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 (Post-Katrina Act) was enacted to address various shortcomings identified in the preparation for and response to Hurricane Katrina. The act enhances FEMA's responsibilities and its autonomy within DHS. FEMA is to lead and support the nation in a risk-based, comprehensive emergency management system of preparedness, protection, response, recovery, and mitigation. The Post-Katrina Act extends beyond changes to FEMA's organizational and management structure and includes legislative reforms in other emergency management areas that were considered shortcomings during Hurricane Katrina. A September 11, 2007, hearing before the House Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management raised some concerns about the way in which DHS and FEMA were implementing several key directives of the Post-Katrina Act. Given the importance of proper implementation of the act and the need for a unified, coordinated national incident-management system capable of preparing for and responding to natural and man-made disasters, including catastrophic disasters, your committees requested that we perform a review of the implementation of the act's requirements. This letter describes the actions FEMA and DHS have taken in response to the act's provisions, areas where FEMA and DHS must still take action, and any challenges to implementation that FEMA and DHS officials identified during our discussions with them.

FEMA and DHS have made some progress in their efforts to implement the act since it was enacted in October 2006. For most of the provisions we examined, FEMA and DHS had at least preliminary efforts underway to address them. However, we have identified a number of areas that still require action, and it is clear that FEMA and DHS have work remaining to implement the provisions of the act. To structure our findings, we analyzed the provisions appearing under each section heading of the Post-Katrina Act and grouped the various sections, as follows: (1) Roles and Responsibilities, (2) Emergency Communications, (3) Disaster Assistance Activities, (4) Disaster Planning and Preparation, (5) Regional Preparedness, (6) Logistics, (7) Contracting, (8) Information Technology, (9) Human Capital, (10) Subject Matter Expertise, (11) Waste, Fraud, and Abuse, and (12) Gulf Coast Recovery. In some cases, a section of the law may be relevant to more than one category--for example, the National Emergency Communications Plan required by the law could have appeared in the Emergency Communications category or in the Disaster Planning and Preparedness category discussed. In some instances, a section of the Post-Katrina Act amends another statute, principally the Homeland Security Act or the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act). In such instances, we include both the Post-Katrina Act section and, parenthetically, the section of the amended statute, for example the Homeland Security Act or the Stafford Act. The information in this letter describes the status, as of August 1, 2008, of actions that FEMA and DHS have reported as completed or underway to implement the several hundred discrete provisions of the Post-Katrina Act that we identified. It was beyond the scope of this report to determine whether FEMA and DHS had fully complied with all the provisions of the act or to evaluate the effectiveness--individually or collectively--of the actions that FEMA and DHS have taken to implement the Post-Katrina Act. Thus, the description of an "action taken" for any given provision does not necessarily mean that FEMA or DHS has done all that is necessary to implement that particular provision or that either entity has done so effectively. Similarly, the lack of an "area to be addressed" in a particular section does not signify that DHS and FEMA have completely satisfied the law in that area; rather, they have generally taken some action in that area. Further, where actions to be taken are identified, it is not intended to suggest that once that action is completed, the relevant statutory provision will be fully implemented.

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