FEMA has gaps in disaster IT systems, IG says

Workforce, budgets, coordination also falling short

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's IT systems still have gaps along with other agency problems in coordination, staffing and budgets even though the agency has improved its readiness to respond to disasters, according to a new audit.

FEMA is facing demands to respond to an increasing number of presidentially declared emergencies and disasters, states the report from the Homeland Security Department Office of Inspector General issued Oct. 15. FEMA is a DHS subordinate agency.

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From January to May, FEMA responded to more than 40 of those emergencies. Since 1980, the average number of events to which FEMA has responded has risen from about 25 a year to 70.

At the same time, the agency displays ongoing shortcomings in a lack of effective IT systems updated and integrated agencywide, gaps in effective coordination with state and local governments, shortages in experienced staff, and an inadequate budget, the audit indicated.

Since the last audit of 10 key functions in 2008, FEMA has experienced substantial gains in emergency communications, while achieving only modest gains in mission assignments and in disaster workforce planning. The other seven key areas had moderate improvement, the IG said.

The report made three recommendations, which were also made in the 2008 audit and have remained resolved but open, pending receipt and review of FEMA’s action plan. They are improving the agency’s overall awareness of its readiness for a catastrophic disaster, developing and sustaining systems to track the progress of major programs and activities, and regularly sharing those status reports with stakeholders.

FEMA managers agreed with the recommendations.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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