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Highlights

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.

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Recommendations

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.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Homeland Security 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.
Closed - Implemented
Following the publication of our report, FEMA officials told us the agency has taken steps to determine the extent of regional office efforts to help states implement the NDRF. In March 2019, FEMA officials told us that they modified the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA)/Stakeholder Preparedness Review (SPR). The SPR is designed as a state or local jurisdiction's annual self-assessment of its current capability levels against the targets identified in the jurisdictions' THIRA, which is on a three-year reporting cycle. FEMA's modification of the THIRA/SPR methodology added some additional questions that will allow FEMA to obtain more informed feedback on states' progress and recovery capabilities. According to FEMA, the results of the states' THIRA/SPR update is shared with each FEMA region so that regional officials are aware of the gaps in capability and areas of improvement needed for each state within the region. Additionally, in April 2019, FEMA officials shared documentation on the process they have put in place to collect state recovery plans, including NDRF-focused plans. This plan review, the State/Territorial Recovery Plans Baseline Assessment 2019, serves as a first step for FEMA to assess the extent to which planning efforts are consistent with selected elements of NDRF principles and planning guidance.
Department of Homeland Security 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.
Closed - Implemented
Following the publication of our report, FEMA officials told us its Recovery Support Function Leadership Group initiated an information management workgroup, which shares best practices information as one of the group's objectives. In March 2018, FEMA officials told us that they are continuing to develop the Interagency Recovery Coordination Dashboard and Resource Library on Max.gov to give state, local, tribal, and territorial personnel a resource library that includes, among other things, lessons learned from past disasters. In April 2019, FEMA officials told us that they created the NDRF Regional Toolkit Share Point site to provide outreach tools and resources to further the objectives of the NDRF and to disseminate best practices and lessons learned. The toolkit brings NDRF implementation resources into one location and creates a FEMA-wide access point to support the dissemination of NDRF-related information. FEMA's NDRF Regional Toolkit site contains a wide variety of resources such as FEMA regional contact information, guidance materials, NDRF talking points, FAQs, and NDRF case studies and presentations.
Department of Homeland Security 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.
Open
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, the Working Group was preparing a Field Leader Manual (FLM) for review by FOD leadership. FEMA officials told us that the 2018 Hurricane season led to the deployment of many of FEMA's FOD leaders. These deployments allowed FOD leaders to experience first-hand the connection between regional implementation plans and FDRC performance plans and FEMA said that this knowledge is being integrated into edits of the FLM. In February 2020, FEMA told us that the FOD leadership responsible for the oversight of FDRCs is still determining the timeline to update the FLM based on a realignment of the Field Leadership Cadre. This update will integrate the Federal Coordinating Officers (FCOs) and FDRCs into a single FCO title with professional development specializations in response or recovery. This integration will support all FCOs in having a common baseline of training and experience in both response and recovery. In an August 2020 update, FEMA stated that while they continue to work toward implementing this recommendation, the FOD is currently focused on COVID-19 response efforts and planning for a more severe than average hurricane season. In an April 2021 update, FEMA provided documentation regarding the integration of the Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) and FDRC positions as well as integrating response and recovery operations. We are in the process of reviewing these materials and will continue to monitor FEMA's efforts to see what additional actions the agency takes in response to this recommendation.
Department of Homeland Security 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.
Open
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 (NDRF) implementation plans. FEMA told us that the 2018 Hurricane season led to the deployment of many of FEMA's field leaders and these deployments allowed leaders to experience first-hand the connection between FDRC performance expectations and FEMA's organizational goals. According to FEMA, this knowledge is being integrated into edits of the Field Leader Manual (FLM). In February 2020, FEMA told us the FOD leadership responsible for the oversight of FDRCs is working with their partners in FEMA's Recovery and Resilience sections, as well as with the Regions to define performance expectations for steady-state recovery planning and preparedness under the NDRF. This will include identifying who is functionally accountable for these activities, any gaps, and best practices across Regions. In an August 2020 update, FEMA stated that while they continue to work toward implementing this recommendation, the FOD is currently focused on COVID-19 response efforts and planning for a more severe than average hurricane season. In an April 2021 update, FEMA provided documentation regarding the integration of the Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) and FDRC positions as well as integrating response and recovery operations. We are in the process of reviewing these materials and will continue to monitor FEMA's efforts to see what additional actions the agency takes in response to this recommendation.

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