FEMA floodplain map

GAO Review Finds Challenges with National Flood Insurance Program

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requires communities participating in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to adopt FEMA floodplain maps; limit flooding caused by new development; and require that substantially damaged structures meet elevation requirements. NFIP’s effectiveness depends in part on communities implementing FEMA requirements on floodplain management and post-disaster rebuilding efforts.

But a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released May 5, said community floodplain officials cited challenges, including difficulty inspecting buildings after a flood, staff turnover, and adopting new NFIP flood maps.

FEMA primarily uses community assistance visits to monitor compliance with NFIP requirements. The visits include evaluations of recent construction. Until 2019, FEMA’s goal was to visit all communities considered to be high-risk every five years. However, GAO’s review found that FEMA did not meet this goal in Texas or Florida in 2008–2019 because of a lack of resources. Many high-risk communities received only one visit in this period, and some were not visited at all. 

FEMA and state specialists also are to close out records of these visits in FEMA’s tracking system if they find no deficiencies or violations, or when the community has resolved any issues. However, in Florida and Texas, GAO found that records for many visits remained open for several years, and FEMA staff were unsure whether this indicated unresolved deficiencies or incomplete recordkeeping. 

After a flood, one key community responsibility is to assess whether flood damage on a property was substantial (50 percent or more of the property’s value). In such cases, the community must ensure the properties are rebuilt to current NFIP standards. However, GAO found that FEMA generally does not collect or analyze the results of these assessments, limiting its ability to ensure the process operates as intended. Furthermore, FEMA has not clarified how communities can access NFIP claims data. Such data would help communities target substantial damage assessments after a flood.

To address the issues discovered in the review, GAO has made four recommendations to FEMA: 

  1. Assess different approaches for ensuring compliance with NFIP requirements.
  2. Ensure data on community visits are up-to-date and complete.
  3. Ensure communities collect data on substantial damage assessments.
  4. Clarify policies on data sharing between FEMA and NFIP communities.

FEMA concurred with the recommendations and expects to have completed the work needed to address them by 31 December 2021.

Read the full report at GAO

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