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Post-Katrina FEMA still struggling

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FEMA’s lackluster response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita was blamed in part on poor coordination of funding, confusion over job roles, and inadequate communication among emergency workers. Five years later, the agency’s internal watchdog says the Federal Emergency Management Agency still has improvements to make.

“Despite the important role of individuals and communities in preparing for a disaster, FEMA faces numerous challenges in measuring the effectiveness of its efforts to enhance individual and community preparedness,” the FEMA inspector general said in a report. Specifically, FEMA should improve coordination at state and local levels, update its information technology systems, hire experienced employees, and obtain funding necessary to meet the costs of disasters as well as training agency staff.

FEMA’s temporary housing plan and disaster response to 15 potential emergencies was also criticized by the inspector general. Retaining senior staff remains a central concern, as FEMA loses many top officials to other federal agencies.

As state and local governments faced budget cuts, there is an increased reliance on FEMA to respond to more emergencies, the report said. “In light of FEMA’s increased involvement in routine disasters, coupled with the recent economic downturn, which has resulted in some state and local governments reducing their emergency management funding, we remain concerned about whether FEMA has sufficient staff focused on planning and preparedness efforts,” it said.

FAST FACT: FEMA spends $4.3 billion a year providing temporary housing, debris removal, building retrofitting, and other services for an average of 70 presidentially-declared emergencies and disasters.

Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities. Congressional Research Service reports, which prepared for lawmakers but not made public, were provided by the Center for Democracy and Technology.

NATIONAL SECURITY

  • Restrictions on U.S. federal land along Mexican border interfere with the Border Patrol’s surveillance of drug smuggling and human trafficking. (GAO)

HEALTH

  • Health and Human Service’s inspector general launch initiative to help medical schools reduce Medicare and Medicaid fraud and abuse that cost taxpayers billions. (OIG)

FINANCE

  • FDIC and Illinois bank regulators could have taken "earlier and stronger" action before the February 2010 failure of George Washington Savings Bank in Orland Park, Illinois, which will cost the FDIC insurance fund $136.5 million (OIG).