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.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|