Davis pokes into preparedness

GAO-05-577, Continuity of Operations

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The chairman of the House Government Reform Committee wants the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether federal agencies are ready for employees to work remotely in the event of a terrorist attack or serious natural disaster.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) sent a letter to GAO Comptroller General David Walker following a congressional hearing last week on agencies' continuity of operations plans.

"Based on updated information we received at the hearing, including the results of GAO's survey of agencies' progress, we remain concerned that many agencies are not adequately prepared to continue providing vital services during emergencies," Davis wrote.

Last week's hearing addressed progress on continuity of operations plans, following a caustic GAO report last spring, which highlighted inadequate guidelines for picking essential employees to work remotely.

Of the 23 agencies reviewed as of May 2004, only a few provided enough documentation for auditors to confirm their claims of using sound practices to identify critical functions, said Linda Koontz, GAO’s director of information management issues.

The number of functions identified ranged from three to 538 and included ones that appeared to be secondary, Koontz said during last week's hearing.

Ten agencies reported that they planned to use telework for continuity of operations, but they did not provide proof that they were prepared to do so. Such efforts should have included training the staff, ensuring the technology exists, providing technical support and testing.

"Inadequate oversight by [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] contributed to the level of weaknesses in agency continuity plans," she testified.

Among other things, GAO officials recommended that Homeland Security Department officials develop a way to verify what agency officials report. They also should work with the Office of Personnel Management to develop guidance on telework preparedness, officials said.

FEMA has started conducting site assessments for continuity of operations, DHS officials said in their response to the GAO report. Last month, DHS officials informed GAO that an online readiness reporting system is complete. The system will be operational by October, officials said.

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