Following Hurricane Katrina, Congress required FEMA to establish contracts for goods and services in advance to enable quick and effective mobilization of resources in the aftermath of a disaster. FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers used "advance contracts" for $4.5 billion in goods and services after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and the California fires of 2017.
We found FEMA's guidance on the use of these types of contracts was unclear, and that inconsistent information from FEMA could impair its efforts to help state and local governments use advance contracts.
We made 9 recommendations, including that FEMA clarify its guidance.
Damage from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico
This photo shows roof damage to buildings in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
What GAO Found
In response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as the 2017 California wildfires, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) relied heavily on advance contracts. As of May 31, 2018, FEMA and USACE obligated about $4.5 billion for various goods and services through these contracts, see figure below.
Advance Contract Obligations and Examples of Goods and Services the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Used to Respond to the 2017 Disasters
Note: Obligations are nominal 2017 and 2018 dollars.
GAO found limitations in FEMA's use of some advance contracts that provided critical goods and services to survivors, including
- an outdated strategy and unclear guidance on how contracting officers should use advance contracts during a disaster, and
- challenges performing acquisition planning.
FEMA also did not always provide complete information in its reports to congressional committees. Specifically, GAO found 29 advance contract actions that were not included in recent reports due to shortcomings in FEMA's reporting methodology, limiting visibility into its disaster contract spending.
FEMA identified challenges with advance contracts in 2017, including federal coordination with states and localities on their use. FEMA is required to coordinate with states and localities and encourage them to establish their own advance contracts with vendors. However, GAO found inconsistencies in that coordination and the information FEMA uses to coordinate with states and localities on advance contracts. Without consistent information and coordination with FEMA, states and localities may not have the tools needed to establish their own advance contracts for critical goods and services and quickly respond to future disasters.
Why GAO Did This Study
Following Hurricane Katrina, Congress required FEMA to establish advance contracts for goods and services to enable the government to quickly and effectively mobilize resources in the aftermath of a disaster, like those that affected the United States in 2017.
GAO was asked to review the federal government's response to the three 2017 hurricanes and California wildfires. This report assesses, among other things, (1) FEMA and USACE's use of advance contracts, (2) FEMA's planning and reporting of selected advance contracts, and (3) challenges, if any, with FEMA's use of these contracts.
GAO analyzed data from the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation through May 31, 2018; selected a non-generalizable sample of 14 FEMA and USACE advance contracts that were competed and obligated over $50 million, or non-competed and obligated over $10 million, in response to the 2017 disasters; and interviewed FEMA and USACE officials.
GAO is making nine recommendations to FEMA, including that it update its strategy and guidance to clarify the use of advance contracts, improve the timeliness of its acquisition planning activities, revise its methodology for reporting disaster contracting actions to congressional committees, and provide more consistent guidance and information to contracting officers to coordinate with and encourage states and localities to establish advance contracts. FEMA concurred with our recommendations.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Federal Emergency Management Agency||FEMA's Administrator should update the strategy identified in its 2007 Advance Contracting of Goods and Services Report to Congress to clearly define the objectives of advance contracts, how they contribute to FEMA's disaster response operations, and whether and how they should be prioritized in relation to new post-disaster contract awards. (Recommendation 1)|
|Federal Emergency Management Agency||FEMA's Administrator should ensure the Head of the Contracting Activity updates the Disaster Contracting Desk Guide to include guidance for whether and under what circumstances contracting officers should consider using existing advance contracts prior to making new post-disaster contract awards, and include this guidance in existing semi-annual training given to contracting officers. (Recommendation 2)|
|Federal Emergency Management Agency||FEMA's Administrator should update and implement existing guidance for program office and contracting officer personnel to identify acquisition planning timeframes and considerations across the entire acquisition planning process, and clearly communicate the purpose and use of a Master Acquisition Planning Schedule (MAPS). (Recommendation 3)|
|Federal Emergency Management Agency||FEMA's Administrator should ensure the Head of the Contracting Activity adheres to current hard copy contract file management requirements to ensure advance contract files are complete and up to date, whether they will be transferred into the new Electronic Contract Filing System or remain in hard copy format. (Recommendation 4)|
|Federal Emergency Management Agency||FEMA's Administrator should ensure the Head of the Contracting Activity reminds contracting officers of the three day timeframe for entering completed award documentation into the contract writing system when executing notice to proceed documentation. (Recommendation 5)|
|Federal Emergency Management Agency||FEMA's Administrator should ensure the Head of the Contracting Activity revises its reporting methodology to ensure that all disaster contracts are included in its quarterly reports to congressional committees on disaster contract actions. (Recommendation 6)|
|Federal Emergency Management Agency||FEMA's Administrator should ensure the Head of the Contracting Activity revises the Disaster Contracting Officer Desk guide to provide specific guidance for contracting officers to perform outreach to state and local governments on the use and establishment of advance contracts. (Recommendation 7)|
|Federal Emergency Management Agency||FEMA's Administrator should ensure the Head of the Contracting Activity identifies a single centralized resource listing its advance contracts and ensure that source is updated regularly to include all available advance contracts. (Recommendation 8)|
|Federal Emergency Management Agency||FEMA's Administrator should ensure the Head of the Contracting Activity communicates information on available advance contracts through the centralized resource to states and localities to inform their advance contracting efforts. (Recommendation 9)|