FEMA Has Made Limited Progress in Efforts to Develop and Implement a System to Assess National Preparedness Capabilities

GAO-11-51R: Published: Oct 29, 2010. Publicly Released: Oct 29, 2010.

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William O. Jenkins, Jr
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This letter responds to a mandate in the conference report to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations Act, 2010. In accordance with the direction in that report and in consultation with congressional staff, we provided interim oral briefings in March and July 2010 and are reporting the results of our final briefing on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) efforts to assess national preparedness. Specifically, we are reporting on (1) the usefulness and limitations of the national preparedness capabilities data that have been collected to date through selected evaluation efforts as described by FEMA, and (2) the extent to which FEMA has made progress in its national preparedness capability assessment efforts since we last reported on this issue in April 2009.

FEMA officials said that evaluation efforts used to collect data on national preparedness capabilities were useful for their respective purposes, but that the data collected were limited by data reliability and measurement issues related to the lack of standardization in the collection of data. For example, FEMA officials reported that one of its evaluation efforts, the State Preparedness Report, has enabled FEMA to gather data on the progress, capabilities, and accomplishments of a state's, the District of Columbia's, or a territory's preparedness program, but that these reports include self-reported data that may be subject to interpretation by the reporting organizations in each state and not be readily comparable to other states' data. They also stated that they have taken steps to address these limitations, for example by creating a Web-based survey tool to provide a more standardized way of collecting state preparedness information that will help them validate the information by comparing it across states. However, since April 2009, FEMA has made limited progress in assessing preparedness capabilities. Since that time, its primary efforts to assess national preparedness have focused on the ongoing implementation of the Comprehensive Assessment System (a five-step process for analyzing available preparedness data) and efforts to streamline preparedness data-reporting requirements for state, tribal, and local stakeholders. However, FEMA has not yet developed national preparedness capability requirements based on established metrics to provide a framework for these assessments. Further, FEMA has not yet fully implemented the five-step Comprehensive Assessment System because of delays in completing the fourth step--reporting national preparedness capabilities--and issuing the first National Preparedness Report. Until such a framework is in place, FEMA will not have a basis to operationalize and implement its conceptual approach for assessing local, state, and federal preparedness capabilities against capability requirements to identify capability gaps for prioritizing investments in national preparedness. For additional information on a summary of our work. Based on the results of our review, we are not making any recommendations for congressional consideration or agency action.

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