Disaster Recovery:

FEMA Needs to Assess Its Effectiveness in Implementing the National Disaster Recovery Framework

GAO-16-476: Published: May 26, 2016. Publicly Released: May 26, 2016.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is responsible for implementing the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) and working in partnership with states as they play a lead role in the recovery process. As shown in the figure below, FEMA coordinates federal recovery stakeholders using six Recovery Support Functions—structures through which federal coordinating agencies provide assistance to state and local communities, before and after a disaster. FEMA's regional offices facilitate pre-disaster recovery planning at the state and local level, promote state adoption of NDRF principles into state pre-disaster recovery plans, and coordinate collaboration between federal, state, local, and tribal governments. Under the NDRF, states have primary responsibility for managing recovery in their communities, including developing pre-disaster recovery plans based on the principles and structures in the NDRF.

The National Disaster Recovery Framework's Recovery Support Functions and Corresponding Federal Coordinating Agencies

The National Disaster Recovery Framework's Recovery Support Functions and Corresponding Federal Coordinating Agencies

Through a number of outreach activities, such as workshops, technical assistance, and training, FEMA took action to promote state adoption of the NDRF. Nevertheless, officials in four of the five selected states GAO reviewed said they did not understand aspects of the NDRF, including how it related to other FEMA disaster programs and the level of federal technical assistance available. Moreover, GAO found that only two of the five states had developed pre-disaster recovery plans based on the NDRF. FEMA officials estimated that nationwide, more than three-quarters of states do not have NDRF-based recovery plans. Further, GAO found that although FEMA employs readiness assessments to track and assess its regional NDRF implementation efforts, it has not used these assessments to systematically analyze changes over time and across regional offices. As a result, FEMA has not used these assessments to help it identify management challenges, inform decision making, or identify best practices and lessons learned across its regional offices. Such analyses could help enhance outreach efforts among FEMA's regional offices and potentially improve implementation of the NDRF nationwide.

Why GAO Did This Study

Coordination challenges among the different levels of government have been a concern during past disaster recovery efforts. As part of the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006, Congress required FEMA to create a national disaster recovery strategy. In response, FEMA developed the NDRF—a comprehensive framework intended to facilitate coordination of recovery assistance across all levels of government.

GAO was asked to examine FEMA's implementation of the NDRF. This review assessed (1) the roles and responsibilities of FEMA and state emergency management offices in implementing the NDRF and (2) the extent to which FEMA has worked with selected states to implement the NDRF. GAO selected for review five states—Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, New York, and Oklahoma—based on factors including the range and type of disasters. GAO reviewed state recovery plans and other documents and interviewed state officials. GAO also reviewed statutes, FEMA plans and policies, and interviewed FEMA officials, including 5 of its 10 regional offices.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends, among other things, that FEMA conduct a systematic analysis of its assessments to determine the effectiveness of its NDRF outreach efforts; and develop and disseminate best practices and lessons learned for conducting NDRF outreach to FEMA regional offices. DHS concurred with the recommendations and described the actions it planned to take in response.

For more information, contact Michelle Sager at (202) 512-6806 or sagerm@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation and said it would take steps to implement it. According to FEMA, its Office of Readiness Assessment (ORA) launched the 2016 bi-annual FEMA Readiness Assessment Program in April 2016, which includes NDRF related assessment discussions in five FEMA regions. We met with officials in April 2017, who told us that ORA plans to incorporate into this year's assessments, a retrospective review of NDRF findings and progress made in implementing the NDRF since 2013. We will continue to monitor this to see what additional actions the agency takes in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enable a more effective approach in working with states to adopt the NDRF, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator of FEMA to conduct a systematic analysis of the information generated from FEMA's readiness assessments to determine the extent of regional office efforts to help states implement the NDRF, including conducting education and outreach.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation and said it would take steps to implement it. According to FEMA, its Recovery Support Function Leadership Group initiated an information management workgroup, which shares best practices information as one of its objectives. The workgroup has piloted the use of an existing interagency portal as a potential platform for improved information sharing. We met with officials in April 2017, who told us that FEMA will incorporate its 2016 readiness review findings and best practices from regional Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinators for stakeholder outreach and education into the final platform build-out. We will continue to monitor this to see what additional actions the agency takes in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enable a more effective approach in working with states to adopt the NDRF, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator of FEMA to develop best practices and lessons learned with regard to conducting NDRF education and outreach to states based on the analysis of readiness assessments and create a mechanism to disseminate and share those best practices and lessons learned to FEMA regional offices.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation and said it would take steps to implement it. According to FEMA, to achieve greater integration of FEMA's field leadership components, FEMA's Field Operations Directorate (FOD) convened a Field Leadership Working Group of senior subject matter experts to conduct a mission analysis of FEMA's Field Leadership function (which includes Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinators as well as Federal Coordinating Officers and Incident Management Assistance Teams team leads). According to FEMA, one of the assigned tasks of the group involves developing performance metrics to define a steady state and operational performance framework for field leaders, to include Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinators. According to FEMA, the Working Group is currently underway and is preparing a Field Leader Manual for review by FOD leadership. We will continue to monitor this to see what additional actions the agency takes in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enable a more effective approach in working with states to adopt the NDRF, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator of FEMA to clarify with regional offices and Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinators (FDRCs) the role of the regional implementation plans in FDRC performance plans and how they will be used to assess NDRF regional implementation efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation and said it would take steps to implement it. According to FEMA, the Field Leadership Working Group will implement the elements of this recommendation alongside efforts to clarify the role of the regional National Disaster Recovery Framework implementation plans. FEMA also provided documentation to GAO noting that the Working Group is progressing in its work on its Field Leadership Professional Development Plan. We will continue to monitor this to see what additional actions the agency takes in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enable a more effective approach in working with states to adopt the NDRF, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator of FEMA to align the annual FDRC performance expectations with clearly defined organizational goals and priorities, consistent with key management practices.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

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