FEMA Surge Capacity Force member Edys Batista (center) carries a box containing food for residents in a remote Puerto Rican mountain community. Photo by Steven Shepard for FEMA

OIG Tells FEMA to Better Manage Volunteers and the Surge Capacity Force

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Homeland Security has found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is not effectively designating Surge Capacity Force (SCF) volunteers and managing the SCF program during disaster operations.

SCF is a unique workforce that allows federal partners throughout the government to assist FEMA with responding to and restoring communities following a catastrophic event. OIG audited FEMA’s management of SCF following an OIG Hotline complaint.

In 2017, FEMA coordinated with multiple federal agencies and augmented its workforce for the first time, using Tier 4 SCF volunteers to respond to multiple events. Based on these 2017 activities, OIG determined FEMA should take additional steps to help improve its SCF readiness and management. Specifically, FEMA was not prepared to deploy SCF Tier 4 volunteers rapidly and efficiently. OIG said this occurred because FEMA had neither a clear commitment from other Federal agencies outside DHS to participate in SCF, nor a roster of volunteers capable of rapidly deploying. 

The audit found that FEMA did not have mechanisms to make other federal agencies aware of SCF or procedures to identify readily available volunteers. OIG said the absence of a commitment from other agencies and volunteer rosters contributed to FEMA’s delayed deployment of SCF volunteers from other agencies. 

OIG found FEMA did not adequately measure SCF performance because it did not have mechanisms to collect the data and feedback to gauge program success. In addition, FEMA did not effectively manage the SCF financial program because it relied heavily on the internal financial controls of volunteers’ home agencies without guarding against breakdowns in those controls. OIG said this could lead to FEMA reimbursing agencies for inaccurate, unreasonable, and unnecessary costs. Finally, FEMA did not close out mission assignments promptly because it did not make closing them out a priority in what officials described as a series of “overwhelming” catastrophes. 

To address these concerns, OIG made four recommendations to FEMA:

  1. Update the 2010 Surge Capacity Force Concept of Operations to describe how the Secretary will collaborate with the heads of other federal agencies to designate Surge Capacity Force volunteers from those agencies and document those agreements. 
  2. Develop program performance measures that use accurate and reliable data and develop a process to ensure the Surge Capacity Force program is meeting its program goals. 
  3. Implement additional internal controls and operational monitoring mechanisms to review Surge Capacity Force mission assignment requests adequately. 
  4. Review Surge Capacity Force mission assignments with no billing activity within the past 180 days, close out those mission assignments, deobligate any excess funds, and put them to better use. 

FEMA concurred with the first two recommendations, and expects to meet these requirements by January 31, 2021. It also agreed with the fourth recommendation, and says it will complete this action by September 30, 2020. FEMA did not concur with the third recommendation and disagreed that reimbursement requests from other federal agencies must include source documentation such as timesheets, travel vouchers, and receipts. FEMA stated its reimbursement procedures for interagency requests are compliant with OMB, Treasury, and DHS policies.

Read the full report at OIG

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