OIG calls for better records management for FEMA disaster declaration applications

A review by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was following statement request policies, but could improve its records management.

A disaster declaration provides access to a wide range of federal assistance programs for individuals and public infrastructure. FEMA uses the declaration request process to validate the need for federal assistance to help communities respond to and recover from a disaster when local, state, territorial, and tribal government resources are overstretched. From January 2017 to July 2020, total committed funding exceeded $113.6 billion for 572 approved disaster declarations. Besides those related to COVID-19, most of these disaster declarations were for severe storms and wildfires.

According to the OIG, FEMA “consistently followed federal laws, regulations, and its own policies and procedures when responding to state, territory, and tribal disaster declaration requests, and making recommendations to the President.” .

The watchdog’s review found that, in most cases, FEMA was maintaining its reporting request files correctly, but 9 of 51 reporting request files had one or more missing records. These records did not include a senior official’s decision rationale for the official’s recommendation where that decision differed from regional recommendations or program office inputs, or was missing some relevant records. FEMA eventually found some of the missing records. The OIG attributed the missing information to FEMA “failing to ensure that it captured and retained senior officials’ rationale for their decisions in official records, and validated the accuracy and completeness of the records, in accordance to its policies and procedures.

During the OIG review, a FEMA official acknowledged that the agency does not normally capture all senior officials’ analysis in statement request packages in which regional recommendations and office inputs exist. of different programs.

The OIG determined that improvements in records management policies and procedures could improve transparency, organizational accountability, and public trust, as well as FEMA’s ability to respond to inquiries about its recommendations.

To that end, he recommended that FEMA incorporate the Component Records Management Policy into program-specific reporting guidelines to specify which records should be created and maintained in official reporting request files.

FEMA has agreed and will publish a guide to the reporting process, which will include instructions for documenting the rationale for high-level decision-making when recommendations from regional offices and program offices differ. The agency also highlighted the new Automated Reporting Solution system which it says will capture justification, which will improve the overall efficiency and transparency of the reporting process.

The OIG also requested that component records management policies be followed both at headquarters and in regional offices to validate that each RTR package is accurate, complete, and in compliance with federal regulations.

FEMA agreed and expects to complete all actions by June 30, 2022.

Read the full report on OIG