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Saturday, April 20, 2024

GAO: Opportunities to Improve Federal Response, Recovery, and Mitigation Efforts

Wildfires are becoming increasingly prevalent, larger in size, and more severe, posing a significant threat to communities across the nation. In August 2023, Hawaii witnessed the deadliest wildfire in over a century on the island of Maui, highlighting the pressing need for effective wildfire preparedness, response, and recovery efforts.

Challenges Identified by GAO

1. Wildfire Response and Recovery

FEMA Challenges: GAO’s prior reports have highlighted FEMA’s struggles in aiding state, local, and tribal governments post-wildfire events. Securing temporary housing for survivors is particularly challenging due to existing shortages of affordable housing, exacerbated by disasters. Additionally, the destruction caused by wildfires often leaves behind contaminated debris and soil, requiring extensive cleanup efforts before affected areas are safe for habitation. While FEMA is taking steps to address these housing challenges, GAO will continue to monitor these efforts closely.

2. Recruitment and Retention of Wildland Firefighters

Barriers Identified: GAO’s investigations have revealed barriers hindering the recruitment and retention of federal wildland firefighters, including low pay and limited opportunities for career advancement. Although Congress has authorised pay increases through fiscal year 2026, more sustainable, long-term solutions are needed to address this issue effectively.

3. Interagency Coordination

Opportunities for Improvement: GAO’s previous work has highlighted the need for enhanced interagency coordination in managing risks associated with wildfire smoke and federal disaster recovery efforts. Recommendations have been made to strengthen coordination between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and land management agencies to mitigate risks to air quality and public health from wildfire smoke. Additionally, GAO has urged federal agencies to streamline and better manage the fragmented approach to disaster recovery, involving over 30 federal agencies and departments and at least 32 congressional committees. Despite these recommendations, significant progress has yet to be made, including the establishment of an independent commission to propose reforms to the federal government’s approach to disaster recovery.

Ongoing Efforts

In light of these challenges, GAO’s ongoing and prior work emphasises the urgent need for comprehensive strategies to address the escalating wildfire crisis. The testimony underscores the importance of effective wildfire response and recovery, improved recruitment and retention of wildland firefighters, and enhanced interagency coordination to mitigate the growing risks associated with wildfires.

GAO continues its rigorous examination of FEMA’s wildfire prevention and recovery efforts, conducting thorough reviews of relevant policies, procedures, and guidance. Site visits and interviews with FEMA officials provide valuable insights into the ongoing efforts to address the wildfire crisis.

As the nation grapples with the escalating challenges posed by wildfires, GAO remains committed to providing critical oversight and recommendations to strengthen federal response and recovery efforts, safeguarding communities and enhancing resilience in the face of this pressing threat.

Read the full GAO report here.

author avatar
Matt Seldon
Matt Seldon, BSc., is an Editorial Associate with HSToday. He has over 20 years of experience in writing, social media, and analytics. Matt has a degree in Computer Studies from the University of South Wales in the UK. His diverse work experience includes positions at the Department for Work and Pensions and various responsibilities for a wide variety of companies in the private sector. He has been writing and editing various blogs and online content for promotional and educational purposes in his job roles since first entering the workplace. Matt has run various social media campaigns over his career on platforms including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and LinkedIn on topics surrounding promotion and education. His educational campaigns have been on topics including charity volunteering in the public sector and personal finance goals.
Matt Seldon
Matt Seldon
Matt Seldon, BSc., is an Editorial Associate with HSToday. He has over 20 years of experience in writing, social media, and analytics. Matt has a degree in Computer Studies from the University of South Wales in the UK. His diverse work experience includes positions at the Department for Work and Pensions and various responsibilities for a wide variety of companies in the private sector. He has been writing and editing various blogs and online content for promotional and educational purposes in his job roles since first entering the workplace. Matt has run various social media campaigns over his career on platforms including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and LinkedIn on topics surrounding promotion and education. His educational campaigns have been on topics including charity volunteering in the public sector and personal finance goals.

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