While Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) policies and procedures provide the agency’s disaster response officials flexibility in responding to “the unique disaster circumstances,” FEMA was nevertheless unprepared to establish a cost-effective Joint Field Office (JFO) in New Jersey to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, according to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General (IG) audit report.
A JFO is a temporary federal coordination center for field-level incident managers and management activities related to disaster response and recovery activities.
“In addition,” the IG said, “a JFO serves as a base of operations for FEMA’s disaster workforce,” and for “large events such as Hurricane Sandy, it is important that the JFO be located close to the impacted area for efficient and effective delivery of the mission and coordination with the state, impacted communities and responding agencies.”
Consequently, “FEMA’s selection of the Hurricane Sandy JFO in Lincroft, New Jersey was not cost effective,” the IG stated in a recent audit report.
The IG determined that “FEMA’s selection of the New Jersey JFO for Hurricane Sandy exposed the federal government to unnecessary costs and delayed JFO operations,” the IG disclosed, adding that, by taking advantage of nearby federal facilities or locating more affordable flexible office space, FEMA might have avoided these facility costs and saved significant federal disaster funds.”
“Additionally,” the IG concluded, “FEMA could have saved over $1.5 million by tacking corrective actions to reduce lease costs as the disaster workforce decreased.”
The IG stated, “FEMA officials’ building selection for the New Jersey JFO was not cost effective because they waited until after Hurricane Sandy struck, and then rushed to a selection decision. FEMA did not adequately plan for the impending need for a JFO in New Jersey. FEMA officials considered only three properties, two of which it deemed unsuitable because of either concerns with past performance or unreasonable contractual demands.”
By selecting the remaining option, the IG noted, “FEMA paid approximately $1 million to rehabilitate the building and spent an additional $5,373,500 for a 1-year building lease.”
“Although many factors contributed to the lack of a timely, cost-effective JFO, the primary cause was FEMA’s lack of pre-disaster planning,” the IG’s audit report concluded, noting that had “FEMA officials … planned properly, they may have saved up to $1.5 million by using flex space and avoided major rehabilitation costs.”
The IG recommended that FEMA in the future collaborate with the General Services Administration (GSA) on selecting potential JFO facilities for forecasted disasters and develop JFO operational procedures that effectively downsize the facility and associated support in a timely manner to reduce JFO costs.
The IG said “FEMA concurred with our recommendations,” assuring that it will work closely with the GSA “to identify and select JFO sites prior to a forecasted disaster evert. FEMA will also reprioritize its logistics and finance staff to develop an inventory of potential JFO locations.”
In addition, the IG said FEMA has formed an Integrated Planning Team to develop a Disaster Assistance Lifecycle Model and is working with its business units to identify criteria for effectiveness and efficiencies for its disaster delivery system.