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Sunday, December 3, 2023

OIG: FEMA Did Not Effectively Manage the Distribution of COVID-19 Medical Supplies and Equipment

Understandably, given the urgency of the situation, FEMA was under pressure to expedite the delivery of critical medical resources and as a result did not always follow established business practices.

On March 19, 2020, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was tasked with leading the Federal response to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. FEMA was responsible for coordinating the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, and medical supplies to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments. But the Office of Inspector General (OIG) says FEMA did not effectively manage the distribution process.

FEMA worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other strategic partners to facilitate the distribution of nearly 886 million critical medical resources worth billions of dollars to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments from January 22, 2020, through January 26, 2022.

Although FEMA worked with its strategic partners to deliver critical medical supplies and equipment in response to COVID-19, an OIG audit has found that the agency did not use the Logistics Supply Chain Management System (LSCMS), its system of record for managing the distribution process, to track about 30 percent of the critical medical resources shipped, as required. This was despite spending more than $400 million to develop and maintain LSCMS. Instead, FEMA used other tracking mechanisms, such as the Web Emergency Operations Center resource request system and spreadsheets, that did not share information with LSCMS. 

OIG said officials did not always use LSCMS to manage their distribution processes because FEMA has conflicting guidance that is open to different interpretations.

In addition, OIG found that FEMA did not maintain delivery receipt documentation for about a third of the shipments reviewed by the watchdog. OIG stated in its report that FEMA has since taken actions to improve its policies and procedures for collecting and maintaining delivery receipt documentation, but that more work is needed to ensure it is better prepared for future disaster response operations.

Understandably, given the urgency of the situation, FEMA was under pressure to expedite the delivery of critical medical resources and as a result did not always follow established business practices. FEMA therefore did not have full visibility into the resources shipped and received, hindering its ability to make informed decisions. Without delivery receipt documents, OIG said FEMA could not ensure it delivered billions of dollars of the right resources, to the right place, at the right time.

During its own review, FEMA found that its National Resource Coordination Center (NRCC) did not have a centralized system for tracking the distribution of resources, which affected its visibility into shipments and the estimated delivery dates. Consequently, FEMA developed a Logistics Resource Tracker to help the NRCC centrally track the distribution of resources. The automated tool was designed to enhance FEMA’s situational awareness and inform decision making by aggregating, visualizing, and sharing information on resource requests and distribution data. To aggregate the data, FEMA staff uploaded and standardized distribution data from various source input reports including reports generated from LSCMS and manual spreadsheet trackers used by the NRCC. According to a FEMA official, in October 2022, the NRCC was using the new automated tool in its normal business process for non–COVID-related disasters. Although the new automated tool enhanced FEMA’s visibility into the resources shipped and received by consolidating distribution data from the various source input reports, OIG said FEMA could improve the accuracy of the information in the tool after it identified some discrepancies.

Since 2020, OIG has issued three reports related to FEMA’s management of its distribution process in response to major disasters including Hurricanes Irma and Maria, as well as COVID-19. In September 2020, OIG found FEMA mismanaged the commodity distribution process in response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, losing visibility of approximately 38 percent of shipments to Puerto Rico. One year later, OIG reported that FEMA faced challenges ensuring stakeholder requests for PPE were accurately adjudicated and allocation decisions were properly informed. And in February this year, OIG found that FEMA did not provide sufficient oversight of Project Airbridge. The project was intended as a temporary measure to address perceived shortfalls in distributors’ PPE inventories but OIG found that the project actually supplemented the distributors’ already large domestic inventories. Furthermore, OIG found that FEMA did not ensure the distributors delivered PPE to healthcare facilities as agreed. 

OIG has made three recommendations to FEMA as a result of its latest audit. 

  • Clarify existing guidance and ensure FEMA personnel use the LSCMS or an alternative integrated solution as the system of record during disaster response operations.
  • Develop and improve the Logistics Management Directorate’s internal controls, guidance, and system integration to obtain more accurate information that enhances logistics decision making regarding the fulfillment of commodity requests during disaster response operations.
  • Issue guidance and ensure a standardized process for collecting and maintaining documentation to confirm delivery and receipt of FEMA-owned commodities, supplies, and equipment, as well as those sourced by FEMA from partners across the Federal Government, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector to fulfill state, local, tribal, and territorial requests. 

FEMA concurred with these recommendations but disagreed with OIG’s overall conclusion that the agency did not effectively manage the distribution of COVID-19 medical supplies and equipment. The agency said it was able to provide senior leaders with sufficient information to make supply chain decisions to allocate resources in support of COVID-19 resource requests. 

Read the full report at OIG

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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