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Highlights

To ensure that essential government services are available in emergencies--such as terrorist attacks, severe weather, or building-level emergencies-- federal agencies are required to develop continuity of operations (COOP) plans. Responsibility for formulating guidance on these plans and for assessing executive branch COOP capabilities lies with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), under the Department of Homeland Security. FEMA guidance, Federal Preparedness Circular (FPC) 65 (July 1999), provides elements of a viable COOP capability, including the requirement that agencies identify their essential functions. GAO was asked to determine the extent to which (1) major civilian executive branch agencies have identified their essential functions and (2) these agencies' COOP plans follow FEMA guidance.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response To ensure that agencies can continue operations in emergencies and are prepared for the governmentwide exercise planned for May 2004, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response to take steps to ensure that agencies that do not have COOP plans develop them by May 1, 2004.
Closed - Implemented
DHS/FEMA required agencies participating in a 2006 interagency continuity exercise to have current continuity plans in place. Two of the three Agencies identified in our recommendation--the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation--completed their plans in preparation for the 2006 exercise. The third agency (NASA) did not participate in the exercise. However, it completed its plan in early 2008.
Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response The Secretary should direct the Under Secretary to take steps to improve the oversight of COOP planning by ensuring that agencies correct the deficiencies in individual COOP plans identified here, as well as those identified in previous assessments.
Closed - Not Implemented
DHS continues development of a system to track the status of individual agency COOP capabilities. However, this system has again been delayed. DHS/FEMA currently plans for the system to be functional early in calendar 2009.
Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response The Secretary should direct the Under Secretary to take steps to improve the oversight of COOP planning by conducting assessments of agency continuity plans that include independent verification of agency-provided information, as well as an assessment of the essential functions identified and their interdependencies with other activities.
Closed - Implemented
In June 2007, the president issued Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20, which, among other things, assigned the Secretary of Homeland Security responsibility for coordinating continuity efforts, including biennial assessments of individual agency continuity capabilities. Also, in February 2008, the Secretary of Homeland Security published a Federal Continuity Directive that outlined an inter-agency process for validating agency-proposed essential functions. FEMA also included assessments of individual agency plans in a 2006 interagency continuity exercise. Together, the implementation of these policies should help improve oversight of agency continuity capabilities and enhance agencies' abilities to continue providing essential services during emergencies.

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