Inspector General of DHS Highly Critical of FEMA’s Spending

From Homeland Security Today this account of a recent report from the Inspector General of DHS. $1 Billion in Questionable DHS FY 2014 Disaster-Related Funding Found by IG. Some excerpts follow:

In FY 2014, the Inspector General told Congress it issued 61 audits of grants, programs and operations funded from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund.

The grant audit reports issued by the IG in FY 2014 included $971.7 million in potential monetary benefits, representing 28 percent of the $3.44 billion of grant funds the IG audited last fiscal year.

Despite the findings of all these IG audits, it “continues to find problems with grant management, ineligible and unsupported costs and noncompliance with federal contracting requirements,” the IG stressed.

A more “significant issue for FY 2014 grant audits,” the IG stated, was the “unused funding that could be put to better use.”

These revelations precede the numerous audit reports issued by the Inspector General documenting many millions in FEMA Public Assistance Grant Funds awarded for Hurricane Katrina damages. The IG stated the millions were improper, improperly used … and “should be recovered by FEMA.” Despite FEMA’s decade of progress after Hurricane Katrina, millions in public assistance grants were misspent, IG concluded.

Additionally, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’ impartial investigative branch, also concluded in a new 93-page audit report that there is no comprehensive, strategic approach to identifying, prioritizing and implementing investments for disaster resilience, which increases the risk that the federal government and nonfederal partners will experience lower returns on investments or lost opportunities to strengthen key critical infrastructure and lifelines.”

Here is the direct link to the Inspector General’s 39 page report.

Risk Assessment and Communication – both are hard to do well

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As we enter week two since the Sendai disasters started, indicators are abundant that these two key elements of an effective response need work. Once again (as was true after the BP Oil Spill last year) the need for objective, trusted assessments and the ability to communicate with responders, media, and the general public come to the forefront because those needs are not being met. Here are two current reports:

Japan pressed to be more transparent as crisis enters second week. CNNwire, March 18, 2011.

Japanese authorities came under fire Friday from within and abroad over the lack of timely information on the unfolding nuclear situation as they battled for a second week to contain the crisis. People near the embattled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are increasingly frustrated, not just with the prolonged fight to curb radioactive emissions, but also the lack of immediate information from authorities, a local government official said.

“Evacuees …are feeling anxious since we are not getting the needed information from the government in a timely manner,” said Seiji Sato, a spokesman for the government of Tamura City, about 20 kilometers from the nuclear facility.

The head of the U.N. atomic agency, Yukiya Amano, pressed the Japanese prime minister to open up lines of communication about the crisis during a meeting in Tokyo. Lawmaker: Japan’s government doesn’t lie Nuclear watchdog under fire over Japan.  Prime Minister Naoto Kan vowed to do as much, according to Japan’s Kyodo News, saying he’d push to make more information available to the international community and release more detailed data about the nuclear situation.

U.S. radiation experts try to decipher reports from Japan. USA TODAY, March 17.

The Japanese government’s radiation report for the country’s 47 prefectures Wednesday had a notable omission: Fukushima, ground zero in Japan’s nuclear crisis. Measurements from Ibaraki, just south of Fukushima, were also
blanked out. Radiation experts in the USA say that the lack of information about radioactivity released from the smoldering reactors makes it impossible to gauge the current danger, project how bad a potential meltdown might be or calculate how much fallout might reach the USA.

Conflicting accounts of the radiation levels emerged in Tokyo and on Capitol Hill. Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said Wednesday that the radiation detected at the Fukushima plant had fallen steadily over the past 12 hours. But U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) chief Gregory Jaczko told a House energy subcommittee earlier in the day that radiation levels at the Fukushima plant were “extremely high.” The chief of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, told reporters he will visit Japan to obtain “firsthand information” about the crisis and prod the Japanese government to provide more.

Given accurate readings, U.S. experts can develop computer models of radiation released from the crippled reactors, factoring in prevailing winds, altitude and rainfall, said Owen Hoffman, a radiation expert from SENES Oak Ridge Inc., a consulting firm that calculated risks from Cold War nuclear tests.

Major Work Still Needed to Avoid Future Oil Spills

BP OIL SPILL Disaster

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Overhaul of Oil Industry Urged; Spill Panel’s Co-Chairman Calls for New Approach to Safety to Prevent Disasters, Wall St. Journal, Dec. 8.  The federal agency charged with deep water drilling regulation needs to do more to prevent future big spills. The article noted some forthcoming comments from the co-chair of the presidential commission, as follows:

William K. Reilly, co-chairman of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, also plans to say that BP and two other companies involved with the doomed Macondo well—Halliburton Co. and Transocean Ltd.—made “breathtakingly inept and largely preventable” missteps, according to a copy of his prepared remarks viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Questions raised re federal agency oil spill assessments

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Spill Panel Faults Obama Response Effort , WSJ, Oct. 6. and White House Suppressed Worst-Case Oil-Flow Estimates, Fed. Commission Reports, WSJ, Oct. 6. Another take from the Homeland Security Digital Library.

For more details, go directly to the website of the Presidentially appointed commssion, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.Related Articles

Long-Term Recovery Plan issued for Gulf after BP Oil Spill

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America’s Gulf Coast; A Long Term Recovery Plan after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, 130 pp. Sept.29, 2010. The report does not have a table of contents or an executive summary. The only summary I could find was the press release.

The first 20 pages are the body of the report.  A series of Recovery Planning Checklists are included in the report, which are interesting.  This is more specific guidance than has been offered to state and local officials than provided to date by any federal officials, to my knowledge. The BP Oil Spill disaster is important, since it is the only example we have of all phases of emergency management taking place under the authority of the Oil Pollution Act/National Contingency Plan rather than the  Stafford Act /National Response Framework for major-to-catastrophic size disaster.

I welcome comments and feedback.

Related articles:

Post-Mortem for the Gulf Oil (Macondo) Well

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With Gulf well almost dead, what lies ahead? Cnn, Sept. 19.

The imminent death of BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico is a milestone that likely will draw only momentary celebration. As scientists debate how much oil remains below the surface, years of economic and environmental recovery in the region lie ahead. The federal government will press for answers on what went wrong April 20 and lawsuits — including those brought by the families of the 11 workers who died in the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion — will eventually make their way through the courts.

Some additional information from the Huffington Post.The well is dead, but Gulf challenges live on. And one more take on the demise of the “rogue well” and the ramifications comes from the Wall St. Journal.

Three Significant New Reports on Federal Recovery Systems

Three new reports out this week (April 13) address some of the fundamental problems of  the current federal recovery system:

(1) Heritage Foundation. Federalizing Disasters Weakens FEMA — and Hurts Americans Hit by Catastrophes. Report # 2398 by M. Mayer and M. DeBosier. This report discusses both response and recovery phase issues.

(2) DHS, Office of the Inspector General. Efficacy of DHS Grant Programs. Criticism of the existing grant programs, attributing some blame to the enabling legislation.

(3) GAO. Disaster Recovery; FEMA’s Long -term Assistance Was Helpful to State and Local Governments but Had Some Limitations. GAO-10-404. March 2010. The full report is 43 pages long. Click here for the one-page summary.

Currently, there is no comprehensive operational coordinating structure to guide the many federal, state, and local entities involved in disaster recovery.”

On a related note, on March 9, 2010 the Congressional Research Service issued a report: FEMA Disaster Cost-Shares: Evolution and Analysis, which discusses the match that state and local governments have to provide when they get a Presidential Disaster Declaration. It covers the history and the reasons for the requirement of matching funds.

The language of the Stafford Act defining cost-shares for the repair, restoration,and replacement of damaged facilities provides that the federal share “shall be not less than 75 percent.”  These provisions have been in effect for over 20 years. While the authority to adjust the cost-share is long standing, the history of FEMA’s administrative adjustments and Congress’legislative actions in this area, are of a more recent vintage.