FEMA’s guidance for debris monitoring lacks sufficient information to ensure adequate oversight, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General found.
In a 2011 report, FEMA’s Oversight and Management of Debris Removal Operations, OIG identified deficiencies in FEMA’s debris removal guidance. To resolve these deficiencies, they made 10 recommendations to, in part, strengthen FEMA’s debris removal guidance and procedures. In response, FEMA released additional criteria pertaining to debris estimating and monitoring to enhance the overall effectiveness of the process. However, in January 2016, FEMA superseded almost all Public Assistance guidance –– including guidance for debris operations –– when it issued the Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide (PAPPG).
The PAPPG eliminates federal and state monitoring responsibilities for debris operations, and relies solely on subrecipients to monitor debris removal operations. Additionally, although local officials said contractors perform required monitoring of debris removal efforts, FEMA, state, and subrecipients provided limited or no contractor oversight, and contractor employees lacked adequate training for monitoring, the OIG said.
FEMA is currently responding to Hurricane Irma — one of the most catastrophic disasters in recent United States history. FEMA’s damage estimates for Florida and Georgia exceed $4.2 billion, with debris removal operations constituting approximately 36 percent of the total Public Assistance cost. Such costs are expected to reach about $1.5 billion in these two states. Without adequate guidance and oversight of debris removal by FEMA, state officials, and subrecipients, OIG concluded, there is increased risk of fraud, waste, and abuse at great cost to taxpayers.
FEMA concurred with the three recommendations and described corrective actions it is taking, or plans to take, to address them.