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Craig Fugate: “Streamlining Emergency Management: Improving Preparedness, Response, and Cutting Costs”

by | Oct 14, 2011 | News & Views

Written Statement of Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency
Management Agency, before the House Committee on Transportation and
Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings,
and Emergency Management: “Streamlining Emergency Management: Improving
Preparedness, Response, and Cutting Costs”

Release Date: October 13, 2011

Rayburn House Office Building
Introduction
Good
morning Chairman Denham, Ranking Member Norton, and distinguished
Members of the Subcommittee. My name is Craig Fugate, and I am the
Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). I
appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today on behalf of FEMA
to discuss our efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of
FEMA’s recovery activities.
FEMA is committed to helping
communities recover from disaster as quickly as possible. Recovery is at
the heart of disaster response and it is vital that we as an agency
continue to support tribal, state and local governments to improve the
recovery process. Successful recovery depends on collaboration with our
many partners to ensure that they have a clear understanding of pre- and
post-disaster roles and responsibilities. FEMA is just one part of the
team, and the success and speed of recovery depends heavily on the Whole
Community’s involvement.
Today, I will describe how FEMA is
cutting-costs and increasing efficiency across the agency, including our
disaster assistance programs. These efforts are improving the speed and
effectiveness of the delivery of our recovery programs. We are also
working to improve collaboration with our federal, tribal, state, local,
and nongovernmental partners to better coordinate delivery of needed
services in the aftermath of a disaster. FEMA will continue to do its
part to help individuals and communities rebuild and recover following a
disaster.
Efforts to Cut Costs and Increase Efficiency
FEMA
understands that the more efficient our operations are, the more people
we can support. That is why we are constantly looking for ways to cut
costs and streamline our processes. Through careful management of our
Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) funds; implementation of FEMAStat, a
management tool used to identify potential process improvements; and
increased oversight of contract administration, we have identified and
capitalized upon numerous opportunities to use our resources more
efficiently.
Although we cannot predict the size, scope, or cost
of future disasters, we have improved management of the DRF to maximize
available resources. Over the past two years, FEMA has put additional
mechanisms in place to reduce costs and identify funds that could be
de-obligated and returned to the DRF. By increasing the level of
oversight of the status of mission assignments, contracts, and grants we
have been able to return over $4.7 billion (as of September 27, 2011)
in excess funds to the DRF since the beginning of FY 2010. We continue
to work to improve the accuracy of our estimates of resource needs for
catastrophic disasters by regularly reviewing spending reports. Each
catastrophic disaster team is required to prepare monthly spend plans
that project resource needs for the current and succeeding year. These
teams also work with state partners to identify priorities and plan for
resource needs. Actual expenses are then compared to projections to
identify variances and the reasons for those variances. In addition, we
have been able to reduce the administrative costs associated with
disaster response and recovery activities by establishing right-sizing
plans for field offices and looking for situations where field offices
can be co-located or run virtually from our regional offices. We will
continue to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money by maximizing the
effectiveness of DRF funds.
FEMA’s aggressive and smart management
prevented a lapse in the DRF in September. As we approached the end of
the fiscal year, FEMA implemented Immediate Needs Funding (INF) and the
Administration requested supplemental appropriations as we transitioned
from immediate response to recovery following Hurricane Irene. In the
meantime, as we awaited Congressional action, FEMA undertook an
aggressive strategy to recover any funding possible to preserve
Individual Assistance (IA), working with states on recoveries. Through
these efforts, FEMA managed to preserve the DRF for another five days at
the end of the Fiscal Year. At the same, projects and disaster recovery
activities were put on hold during Sept to prioritize IA and
recoveries. All of these activities will require attention and resources
in FY12.
We have also successfully streamlined and reduced errors
in disaster contracting through improved oversight and administration.
At the beginning of FY 2010, FEMA’s Office of the Chief Procurement
Officer (OCPO) created a new branch to provide administrative
supervision and operational support for all Contracting Officers with
regional duty stations. This new branch has helped increase awareness
and use of local sources for disaster contract support.
Another
significant improvement in acquisition management has been the use of
Disaster Acquisition Response Teams (DARTs). The DART’s primary focus is
to respond to disasters and provide contract administration and
oversight of large disaster contracts in the field. The use of DARTs has
resulted in increased efficiency in disaster response and recovery
acquisition activities:
Following this summer’s severe
flooding in Minot, ND, DARTs helped to identify potential sources of
housing for disaster responders and were able to provide recommendations
for vendor, contract type, and solicitation procedures to streamline
the procurement process.
DARTs assisted with the de-obligation of prior-year contracts to help fund the DRF.
In
response to Hurricane Irene, DARTs engaged with the Recovery Division
and were prepositioned to provide administrative contracting support for
housing and inspection missions.
FEMA also worked to
transition qualified Disaster Assistance Employees to the
Acquisitions/Contracting (1102) series, which will allow them to have
greater purchasing power in the field during disasters. This conversion
creates the possibility for these contract specialists to be deployed in
the field for a longer period of time, creating increased stability in
contract administration. These efforts have increased the speed with
which we can get recovery contracts in place while reducing the number
of errors.
Across the agency, FEMAStat is being used to identify
opportunities for improvement. FEMAStat was introduced in January of
this year as a process for ensuring alignment of our allocation of
resources with our mission and goals. This management tool looks at
outcomes across the agency to determine our progress on stated
priorities, monitor FEMA’s readiness posture, and identify opportunities
to improve our performance. FEMAStat meetings provide a place for the
agency’s senior leadership and mid-level managers to have an open,
data-driven discussion about an identified topic or mission area.
Performance gaps are identified and actions to address these gaps are
decided upon and assigned to an office for rapid action. It also
provides a forum where lessons-learned and best practices from previous
disasters can be used to improve our processes. Since the inception of
FEMAStat, we have seen many successes, including:
Identified
additional opportunities to build internal expertise and save costs by
converting contracts and contractor positions to full-time employees.
Established
a unified employee training architecture that examines the training
needs and resources across all components of the agency.
Established
the OCPO as the owner of the acquisition process from start to finish,
which will allow the office to track the entire contracting process and
identify inefficiencies and bottlenecks.
We will continue to reform our agency and make it more effective and nimble through various initiatives and methods.
Improvements to Disaster Assistance Programs
In
addition to our efforts to improve FEMA’s operational efficiency, we
also have increased the effectiveness of our Individual Assistance (IA)
program. FEMA’s IA program provides assistance to individuals and
families after a disaster, including emergency assistance, the
Individuals and Households Program (IHP), Crisis Counseling Program,
Disaster Legal Services, Disaster Unemployment Assistance and the
Disaster Case Management Program. Disaster housing programs reflect the
varying needs of disaster-affected communities and individuals. FEMA
housing programs enumerated under the Stafford Act are not intended to
restore the applicant to their pre-disaster standard of living, but
rather to provide a bridge between short-term transitional sheltering
and long-term, sustainable permanent housing. Rental assistance is the
most common form of housing assistance provided by FEMA, enabling
individuals and families to rent a housing unit while they locate and
secure long-term permanent and sustainable housing.
In the
aftermath of the tornadoes in Joplin, MO last spring, one of the
greatest challenges was identifying available housing to address the
unique situation of the community. Despite the devastation of its school
system after the tornadoes, the town of Joplin set a priority to reopen
the schools on time this fall. To aid this effort, FEMA worked with the
State-led Housing Task Force to place families with school-aged
children in mobile home parks first, successfully housing all families
identified before the start of the school year. Achieving this goal has
been an important symbol of progress for residents still busy putting
their lives back together and we are proud to have been a part of this
effort.
We are working to simplify the disaster assistance application process for individuals as well. DisasterAssistance.gov
consolidates information about disaster assistance from multiple
government agencies in one place, making it easier for disaster
survivors to research and apply for disaster assistance. Disaster
survivors may be eligible for a variety of disaster assistance programs
offered by 17 different federal agencies. In 2010,
DisasterAssistance.gov was named on the Congress.org list of five best
government websites and continues to be one of the most efficient ways
for individuals to learn about their disaster assistance options.
Additionally, FEMA’s National Processing Service Center (NPSC) has
developed the capability to provide outgoing email to disaster
survivors. Since August 2011, disaster survivors have immediate online
access to FEMA generated correspondence as opposed to traditional mail
which can take up to five days. Survivors are notified more quickly of
eligibility determinations, assistance, and any follow-up documentation
required for assistance. In addition, FEMA’s mobile website makes it
easier for smartphone users to access critical information regarding
emergency preparedness, what to do in the event of a disaster, and
register for assistance.
The NPSC has also made significant
improvements to its processes that have resulted in the ability to serve
more customers quickly and efficiently. Through initiation of an
Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system that allows applicants to check
the status of their application without agent intervention, the NPSC’s
capacity has greatly increased. This self-service option is also
available online. As a result of these new automated options, the NPSC
has achieved an average wait time of 20 seconds and answered more than
1.5 million inquiries since January 26, 2011. To further streamline its
processes, the NPSC has established specialized teams dedicated to
dealing with more complex cases such as Appeals and Recoupment to
decrease review time for these cases.
Moreover, FEMA has more than
doubled its daily capacity to perform home inspections, which has
resulted in an average turn-around time for completing inspections of
3.2 days for the last 35 IA disasters. All of these improvements have
resulted in better service to our customers and a 93.5 percent customer
satisfaction score in 2010 from individual assistance applicants.
We
have also made improvements to the Public Assistance (PA) program,
which provides Federal disaster grants to eligible tribal, state, and
local governments, as well as certain private nonprofit entities for the
repair, replacement, or restoration of pub¬licly-owned facilities and
infrastructure damaged during a disaster. Through a comprehensive,
bottom-up review (BUR) of the existing PA program, we are identifying
changes that will reduce administrative costs, speed delivery of
recovery funds, and increase applicant flexibility. A workgroup is in
the process of analyzing internal and external feedback and data and
will develop proposed program options for the improved implementation of
the PA program for senior leadership review. During this process, we
collected feedback from numerous external stakeholder groups such as the
National Emergency Management Association and the National Advisory
Council.
FEMA will share the proposed program options with
stakeholders once they are fully developed. We anticipate initiating
changes to the PA program in early 2012; In the meantime, FEMA is
pursuing regulatory and policy changes within existing statutory
authority and will also consider the need for legislation. For example,
FEMA has completed a PA policy review with input from states on the PA
Steering Committee. PA is in the process of making changes to multiple
policies with the objective of enhancing flexibility and simplifying the
program. We are committed to enhancing the performance of the PA
program so that we can do our part to help communities rebuild following
a disaster.
One form of assistance that the PA program provides
is debris removal operations. In order to aid communities in faster
recovery, the PA program piloted Operation Clean Sweep, also known as
the Expedited Debris Removal Program, which uses geospatial imagery to
make rapid assessments and identify the areas with the most catastrophic
damage. This allows FEMA to focus on the hardest hit areas and combine
direct Federal assistance and local government contracting to quickly
remove debris. This pilot has been used with great success by local
governments in Mississippi, Alabama, and Missouri in response to the
spring storms to quickly remove debris. Using this approach in Alabama
this spring and summer, the Army Corps of Engineers, contractors, and
local governments were able to move 8.35 million cubic yards of
debris—84% of the state’s debris—in just 75 days.
FEMA also funds
temporary facilities like fire stations and schools as part of the PA
program, which enables communities to quickly restore critical public
infrastructure functions. This effort helped Joplin residents to re-open
schools following the severe storms in the south. Along with state and
local partners, FEMA formed a Schools Task Force to support and help
Joplin local officials establish temporary facilities for schools to
meet their goal to open schools on time in the fall. With FEMA’s help,
Joplin was able to have classrooms, storm shelters, support facilities,
and athletic fields needed to start the school year. FEMA also ensured
that safe rooms are included in both the temporary and rebuilt schools.
When schools opened on time on August 17th, about 95% of the student
population had returned. This story highlights not only what can be
accomplished when the Whole Community works toward a single objective,
but serves as a testament to the resilience and determination of the
Joplin community.
National Disaster Recovery Framework
We
have seen how important collaboration is to the recovery process. In
order to further improve coordination of recovery activities among
federal, tribal, state, local, and non-governmental partners and to
comply with mandates in the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act
and the Presidential Policy Directive 8 on National Preparedness, FEMA
developed the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF). The NDRF—for
the first time—clearly defines coordination structures, leadership roles
and responsibilities, and guidance for federal agencies, state and
local governments, and other partners involved in disaster planning and
recovery. The NDRF introduces six new Recovery Support Functions
(community planning and capacity building, economic, health and social
services, housing, infrastructure systems and natural and cultural
resources) and identifies specific recovery positions that help focus
efforts on community recovery such as the Federal Disaster Recovery
Coordinator (FDRC). The FDRC will be deployed when a Federal role is
necessary and significant interagency resource coordination is required
due to the large-scale, unique or catastrophic nature of the disaster.
The FDRC’s sole focus is coordinating available resources to assist the
community with rebuilding and recovering.
The NDRF reflects input
gathered through extensive stakeholder discussions which included
outreach sessions conducted by FEMA and the Department of Housing and
Urban Development in each of the ten FEMA Regions, and forums held in
five cities across the country. The final NDRF incorporates comments and
recommendations from discussion roundtables held with professional
associations, academic experts, and more than 600 stakeholders
representing federal, tribal, state, and local governments, as well as
public and private organizations.
FEMA has been field testing
certain aspects of the NDRF, including the appointment of a FDRC. For
example, in the wake of the 2011 tornadoes that tore through Alabama and
much of the south, a FDRC was appointed to work with Alabama state
officials to develop a recovery strategy that emphasized coordination.
In addition, the Governor established a lead state agency to manage
state coordination efforts and staff were co-located within the Joint
Field Office to provide a direct connection between federal and state
partners. The NDRF recognizes the importance of engaging and utilizing
the Whole Community—federal, state and local governments, non-profit
organizations, the private sector and individuals—to help a community
maximize available resources to recover from disaster.
At the end
of September, FEMA hosted the National Recovery Tabletop Exercise
(Recovery TTX) with over 200 participants from federal, state, local and
non-governmental organizations. It was the first opportunity to explore
the application of the NDRF using the National Level Exercise
large-scale, multi-state, multi-Region catastrophic earthquake scenario.
The Recovery TTX was a great opportunity to further outline the scope
of each Recovery Support Function (RSF), identify the necessary linkages
between RSFs and understand capacities to support the RSFs in all
phases of recovery. Through collaboration and engagement with partners
at every level of government as well as the nonprofit and private
sector, we can maximize our resources and recovery capabilities.
Conclusion
Recovery
is one of the most vital and sustained phases of the emergency
management cycle. By streamlining processes and cutting costs, we can
increase FEMA’s ability to provide help to communities at this crucial
time. FEMA remains committed to assisting our tribal, state, and local
partners in the aftermath of a disaster, working with our partners in
the private sector and voluntary agencies. By engaging with these
important members of the team, we can build the resilience of the
nation’s communities and increase their ability to recover from
disasters. Thank you for this opportunity, I am happy to answer any
questions you may have.

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