Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Disaster Relief: Continued Findings of Fraud, Waste, and Abuse
GAO-07-300 Published: Mar 15, 2007. Publicly Released: Mar 15, 2007.
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) continues to respond to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. GAO's previous work identified suspected fraud, waste, and abuse resulting from control weaknesses associated with FEMA's Individuals and Households Program (IHP) and the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) purchase card program. Congress asked GAO to follow up on this previous work to determine whether potentially improper and/or fraudulent payments continued to be made. GAO testified on the results of our audit and investigative efforts on December 6, 2006. This report summarizes the results of our follow-up work.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Federal Emergency Management Agency||To prevent rental assistance payments from being provided at the same time that FEMA provides free housing (including trailers, mobile homes, and apartments), the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of FEMA to develop processes for comparing IHP registrant data with FEMA direct housing assistance data to prevent IHP registrants from receiving payments for rental assistance covering the time they are living in FEMA-provided housing.||
In January 2010, FEMA upgraded their National Emergency management Information System (NEMIS) - used by caseworkers when disaster assistance payments are to be awarded - to display all housing assistance an applicant has received, including direct housing assistance. This information allows FEMA caseworkers reviewing requests for assistance to view all housing actions in a single location, improving their ability to identify potential overlapping assistance.
|Federal Emergency Management Agency||To prevent rental assistance payments from being provided at the same time that FEMA provides free housing (including trailers, mobile homes, and apartments), the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of FEMA to provide clear guidance to IHP registrants, including rental assistance registrants, indicating how the payments are to be used.||
Consistent with the intent of our recommendation, in July 2008 FEMA issued a booklet titled "Help After a Disaster - Applicant's Guide to the Individuals & Households Program." This booklet is a program guide designed to help IHP applicants understand the program and the application and eligibility process including guidance on how to use benefit payments. Specifically, the guide states that money received from IHP for housing must be used for eligible expenses only as identified by FEMA.
|Federal Emergency Management Agency||With respect to duplicate assistance payments across multiple disasters, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of FEMA to implement and/or enable controls to prevent duplicate payments to the same individual from different disasters for the same damage done to the same address.||
In January 2010, FEMA implemented a new version of their National Emergency Management Information System (NEMIS). Controls include improvements such as additional warning flags to caseworkers regarding duplicate applications and increased information for caseworkers on potential duplicate applicants. The upgrade to FEMA's information system should help reduce duplicate payments to the same individual from different disasters.
|Federal Emergency Management Agency||To prevent improper payments to nonqualified aliens, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of FEMA to provide clear guidance and training to FEMA and contractor employees on the specific types of aliens eligible for financial disaster assistance, and identify nonqualified aliens.||
In response to this recommendation, FEMA established the IHP Assistance Group to provide clear, consistent and timely guidance regarding IHP policies and case processing procedures, including alien eligibility requirements, to the National Processing Service Center (NPSC) front line workers through a dedicated phone system. In 2009, all NPSC staff involved in manual case processing received training, which will be given on a refresher basis going forward. The establishment of the IHP Assistance Group and NPSC refresher training should aid FEMA employees and contractors identify the specific types of aliens eligible for financial disaster assistance and therefore prevent improper payments.
|Federal Emergency Management Agency||To prevent improper payments to nonqualified aliens, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of FEMA to develop processes to identify and deny assistance to nonqualified aliens who register for IHP assistance using valid Social Security numbers through data comparisons with agencies that maintain data on legal aliens with Social Security numbers.||
Consistent with the intent of our recommendation, in January 2010, FEMA upgraded its computer systems and implemented many automated system controls to prevent assistance from being provided to all non-qualified individuals (including aliens). These automated system controls include querying private sector databases to check that SSNs (1) are valid, (2) and match the registrant's name. FEMA's new automated system controls should prevent assistance payments being issued to non-qualified aliens.
|Federal Emergency Management Agency||With respect to property bought with DHS purchase cards, if FEMA cannot locate this property in a reasonable time period, it should work with DHS to reconcile its tracking system data and declare these items lost or stolen.||
In February 2008, FEMA completed a reconciliation of its tracking system data for property purchased after Hurricane Katrina with DHS purchase cards and declared missing property items as lost.