The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has taken action since fiscal year 2019 to prevent and respond to discrimination and harassment, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
In 2020, the RAND Corporation—under a FEMA contract—estimated that 29 percent of FEMA employees experienced discrimination or harassment related to sex, or race/ethnicity, based on self-reported responses to a 2019 survey.
GAO has welcomed FEMA’s subsequent creation of an office to investigate harassment allegations and developed response policies. FEMA also issued its Culture Improvement Action Plan, which includes anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training and communication campaigns.
In April 2022 however, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that FEMA did not meet 13 requirements in its equal employment opportunity program. FEMA officials said they are taking steps to address these deficiencies and plan to provide EEOC with a required compliance report outlining its efforts and progress to address these deficiencies in October 2022. The EEOC has issued recommended practices for preventing harassment, and GAO found that FEMA has met most of these practices.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) established the anti-harassment policy and training that apply to FEMA, but these do not fully meet recommended practices, GAO said. For example, DHS’s policy does not include a statement that DHS (or the relevant component agency, such as FEMA) will provide a prompt, impartial, and thorough investigation.
The government watchdog said FEMA’s harassment complaint system generally met recommended practices, but that FEMA does not consistently notify employees who allege harassment whether the agency took or will take corrective action. FEMA policy requires managers to provide such notification, but GAO found that managers have not consistently done so.
Ultimately, GAO found that while FEMA has taken actions to address workplace discrimination and harassment, it has not taken steps that would enable it to determine the effectiveness of its efforts. Specifically, GAO found that FEMA has not designated an individual or entity responsible for oversight nor has it established goals and measures for its cultural improvement efforts.
GAO is making four recommendations to DHS and nine to FEMA. Among them, DHS should update its anti-harassment policy and training; FEMA should implement a control to ensure that those who allege harassment are notified of whether corrective action has been or will be taken; designate an entity responsible for overseeing cultural improvement efforts; and establish associated goals and measures for its efforts. DHS concurred with the recommendations.