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GAO Audit: FEMA Needs Better Planning, Data Collection to Improve Workforce Management

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) hasn’t yet resolved “various long-standing workforce management challenges” previously identified by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), GAO said in a new audit report this week.

“Since 2007,” GAO said it had found FEMA faced challenges in completing and integrating its strategic workforce planning efforts, and as a result GAO recommended FEMA “develop a plan that identifies workforce gaps and includes performance metrics for monitoring progress.”

GAO also identified other workforce challenges at FEMA, including low employee morale.

“FEMA has not yet resolved these challenges and fully addressed GAO’s workforce-related recommendations but, according to agency officials, plans to do so through several efforts,” GAO stated in a new audit report this week.

GAO recommended:

  • A new incident workforce planning model—pending final approval—that will determine the optimal mix of workforce components to include in FEMA’s disaster workforce;
  • A new Human Capital Strategic Plan to be finalized in September 2015—that will help ensure it has the optimal workforce to carry out its mission; and
  • An executive-level steering committee to help ensure that these workforce planning efforts are completed and integrated.

GAO said, “FEMA’s ability to address long-standing challenges hinges on its ability to effectively coordinate with agency stakeholders and integrate its workforce-related new efforts into a strategic human capital management approach. Given that the agency’s efforts are ongoing, it is too soon to determine whether these challenges will be addressed.”

“FEMA faces challenges in implementing and managing its two new workforce components: the Surge Capacity Force and the FEMA Corps.,” GAO stated.

DHS’s Surge Capacity Force consists of employees of DHS components who volunteer to deploy to provide support to FEMA in the event of a disaster.

FEMA Corps. is a temporary national service participants of the National Civilian Community Corps who complete FEMA service projects to complement its disaster-related efforts.

“For example,” GAO told lawmakers in its audit report, “as of January 2015, the Surge Capacity Force was at 26 percent of its staffing target of 15,400 personnel, and FEMA does not have a plan for how it will increase the number of volunteers to meet its goals. Developing such a plan would help ensure that the Surge Capacity Force has a sufficient number of personnel available to support FEMA’s efforts.”

Furthermore, GAO said it found FEMA “does not collect full cost information, including the costs of FEMA Corps background investigations and the salaries and benefits of Surge Capacity Force volunteers who are paid by DHS components while they are deployed.”

GAO said, “Collecting this information would help provide a more accurate accounting of the cost of conducting both programs.”

Further, “FEMA does not assess all aspects ofprogram performance because it does not have performance measures that correspond to all program goals,” GAO reported, noting, “The agency also does not collect reliable performance data, or have an automated system for comparing performance against FEMA Corps project goals. Doing so would better enable FEMA to assess whether it is meeting its program goals.”

FEMA historically has relied on both permanent and temporary disaster-related employees to respond to presidentially declared disasters. FEMA’s total workforce increased by about 144 percent—7,558 to 18,449 employees—from fiscal year 2005 to September 2014. In 2012, FEMA deployed two new components to its disaster response workforce—the DHS Surge Capacity Force and the FEMA Corps. However, a Hurricane Sandy after-action report indicated FEMA exhausted its staff resources during its response, and the agency faced additional challenges related to its disaster response workforce.

In its current audit report, GAO recommended, among other things, that FEMA develop a plan to increase Surge Capacity Force volunteer recruitment, and collect additional cost and performance information for its two new workforce components

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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