FEMA logistics management system falls short

Shutterstock image: natural disaster, tsunami.

The electronic logistics management system designed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to communicate with other federal and state agencies and help facilitate delivery of emergency supplies to disaster-stricken areas doesn't work very effectively, according to a report by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General.

FEMA created the Logistics Supply Chain Management System (LSCMS) using off-the-shelf components that could interface with partners' and suppliers' systems to track the delivery of emergency supplies to survivors of catastrophes. The agency said the system strives for a unified look and feel, allows users to access it via a single sign-on and shares data in real time for visibility into the entire supply chain.

FEMA has spent more than $247 million on the system since 2005.

But OIG auditors found that LSCMS did not interface well with other systems at FEMA partners -- which include the General Services Administration, Defense Logistics Agency, Army Corps of Engineers and private-sector firms. FEMA's lack of real-time visibility over all supplies shipped by its partners makes it difficult for the agency to locate and track supplies.

The report also notes that FEMA does not have enough trained employees to efficiently operate the system.

"One of FEMA's prime missions is to immediately provide survivors with three days' worth of basic emergency supplies," DHS IG John Roth said in a statement accompanying the release of the report. "As presently configured, this supply chain system is not up to that task."

FEMA said its distribution centers are stocked with supplies and commonly used shelter items for initial responses to disasters, but it relies heavily on contractors and other federal agencies to provide follow-up response. According to FEMA, 75 percent of disaster shipments come from its vendors or other agencies.

The OIG made 11 recommendations for improving the system, including an independent audit by the Homeland Security Systems Engineering and Development Institute to analyze alternatives. That audit has already begun. The report also recommends offering better training for employees who work with the system, developing a set of internal controls and conducting an operational evaluation of the program.

LSCMS replaced earlier systems after the agency's logistical failures in responding to Hurricane Katrina, which laid waste to New Orleans and to FEMA's reputation. The agency wanted the new system to automate the processes for ordering, tracking and delivering supplies from other federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, the private sector and state, local and tribal governments.

In January 2013, FEMA's Logistics Management Directorate launched a major LSCMS technology upgrade to replace multiple subsystems with an integrated system that provides access to a common data repository across applications.

However, the OIG's report states that as of March 2014, LSCMS still had not achieved full operational capability.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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