FEMA not abiding by IT approval guidelines

Tuesday - 7/19/2011, 7:14pm EDT

By Courtney Thompson
Federal News Radio

As the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) enhances its information technology environment, a recent report by its auditors revealed that the agency lacks a comprehensive strategy that includes an inventory of its operational systems.

As a consequence, FEMA now must correct the information in its databases while states continue to file paper requests for disaster relief assistance and taxpayers face more losses.

"It is critical that FEMA evaluate and account for all of its IT systems so that it may prioritize where improvements are most needed," said Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, respectively, in a letter Tuesday to Homeland Security Department Secretary Janet Napolitano.

The lawmakers said the problem may be with the way IT is funded and managed at the agency. The Senators requested FEMA provide the Office of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) with resources to guide the agency's IT investments.

In the letter, Lieberman and Collins asked the agency to answer questions about IT management within 30 days. The lawmakers recommended FEMA and the management directorate at DHS submit an additional response to the committee within 15 days and follow up with a quarterly report about its improvements to IT management.

Over the years, Lieberman and Collins said many outsourced program offices have created "independent, non-integrated, and potentially duplicative" IT systems often without guidance from its CIO, which oversees IT projects. For example, a program office spent nearly $7.5 million to build an IT system that never met the agency's security and technical requirements.

Even after the CIO issued guidelines in 2008 requiring the office to approve all IT purchases worth more than $10,000, the Senators said FEMA's programs have failed to comply with this process.

Although Lieberman and Collins said that FEMA had made progress since Hurricane Katrina, its IT systems still are not effectively responding to disasters. The lawmakers indicated three reasons why the IT systems do not support its agency's operations:

  • FEMA's property management and supply chain systems, which inventory and track commodities are not integrated, leading to inaccurate information in the databases and requiring duplicative work by staff.
  • FEMA's financial and acquisition systems, which together account for 80 percent of disaster funds, are not integrated, forcing staff to manually track and reconcile funds.
  • FEMA's IT systems are not able to effectively integrate with its stakeholders' systems which can hinder effective disaster response.

Lieberman and Collins also said that the DHS inspector general found there were 90 operational IT systems in FEMA's inventory, but there still may be several hundred systems that are not included in the report.

An e-mail to FEMA seeking comment on Lieberman and Collins' concerns was not immediately returned.

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Courtney Thompson is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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