Federal Manager's Daily Report

Shortages of staff have hampered FEMA’s ability to respond to natural disasters, the GAO has said, and “With an increase in the frequency and cost of disasters, and with FEMA simultaneously supporting numerous efforts outside of its normal core responsibilities, we are concerned that FEMA personnel may not be prepared to manage a catastrophic natural disaster or concurrent disasters.”

A witness told a House Homeland Security Committee hearing that in response to 2017 disasters, FEMA faced shortages across over half of its cadres it deployed and faced similar shortages during the 2018 disaster season. In addition, the agency is experiencing rising rates of staff members refusing to deploy “in part due to the austere conditions and burnout.”

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An additional challenge, it said, is that some staff members “did not have the skills or experience to perform effectively in their positions” but were incorrectly reported in internal systems as having those qualifications. Some “were only able to complete half the tasks expected of them,” which “affected morale, added to others’ workload, and could turn a 12-hour day into a 14-hour day.”

GAO has recommended that FEMA better evaluate its staffing needs, increase career development efforts, among other recommendations. The witness said that FEMA’s parent DHS “concurred with our recommendations and has taken steps to address them, but has not yet completed planned work, partly due to increased disaster operations and the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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