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Highlights

To ensure that essential government services are available in emergencies, federal agencies are required to develop continuity of operations plans. According to guidance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is responsible for providing guidance for and assessing agency continuity plan, a key element of a viable capability is the proper identification of essential functions. GAO previously reported on agency continuity plan compliance, and determined that a number of agencies and their components did not have continuity plans in place on October 1, 2002, and those that were in place did not generally comply with FEMA's guidance. GAO was asked to determine, among other things, to what extent (1) major federal agencies used sound practices to identify and validate their essential functions and (2) agencies had made progress since 2002 in improving compliance with FEMA guidance.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security To ensure that agencies are adequately prepared to continue performing essential functions following an emergency, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security should establish a schedule for the completion of the recently initiated effort to validate agency essential functions and refine federal continuity of operations policy.
Closed - Not Implemented
DHS did not respond to numerous requests for an update on the status of implementation of this recommendation. A review of public information on the federal continuity program did not reveal evidence that this recommendation had been implemented.
Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response to develop a strategy for short-term oversight that ensures that agencies are prepared for a disruption in essential functions while the current effort to identify essential functions and develop new guidance is ongoing.
Closed - Implemented
Consistent with our recommendation, in May 2006 the Department of Homeland Security outlined a plan for oversight of agency COOP programs. The outlined plan provided a timeline for steps FEMA would take to compile and evaluate agency COOP plans, including assessments by external evaluators prior to a government-wide exercise in June 2006. This oversight could contribute to more effective agency plans, which in turn could increase the likelihood that agencies will effectively respond to emergency disruptions.
Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response to develop and implement procedures that verify the agency-reported data used in oversight of agency continuity of operations planning.
Closed - Implemented
In June 2006 as part of the Forward Challenge 06 continuity exercise, FEMA-selected independent evaluators performed assessments of COOP plans from executive branch agencies. These assessments validated information contained within agency COOP plans and identified strengths and weaknesses in an effort to improve agency continuity capabilities.
Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response to develop, in consultation with the Office of Personnel Management, guidance on the steps that agencies should take to adequately prepare for the use of telework during a continuity of operations event.
Closed - Implemented
Consistent with our recommendation, in August 2006, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued guidance on the steps that agencies should take to prepare for the use of telework during a COOP event. The Guide to Telework in the Federal Government provides guidance to agencies on teleworking during COOP events, including a discussion on informing selected employees of their expectation to telework during a COOP event. The new guidance outlines COOP manager and teleworker responsibilities as well as resources telework managers need to consider in implementing telework into agency COOP planning.

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