FEMA’s $240M Disaster Relief System Doesn’t Work
Policy + Politics

FEMA’s $240M Disaster Relief System Doesn’t Work

Another federal agency wastes taxpayer money on software

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

A $240 million dollar “high tech” system intended to help FEMA deliver supplies to victims of catastrophic disasters is a complete disaster itself, according to federal auditors.

Nine years ago, after the government’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina, Congress mandated that FEMA build the Logistics Supply Chain Management System to help coordinate with other agencies and suppliers to quickly distribute food, water and blankets to victims.

Related: Auditors Still Finding Misused FEMA Katrina Funds

A new audit this week from the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General John Roth concludes, “Despite spending about $247 million over nine years, FEMA cannot be certain its supply chain management system will be effective during a catastrophic disaster.”

The auditor said the system is so flawed it can’t “interface” or communicate with its partners, making it nearly impossible to locate emergency supplies.

“One of FEMA’s prime missions is to immediately provide survivors with three days’ worth of basic emergency supplies,” Roth said in the report. “As presently configured, this supply chain system is not up to that task.”

Even if the system worked properly, the auditors said that FEMA doesn’t have enough trained employees to operate it efficiently.

Related: GAO Flags FEMA’s Spending Practices

The IG made 11 recommendations to repair the system and make the coordination and distribution of supplies run smoothly. FEMA, for its part, agreed with the IG’s recommendations and said it’s already in the process of improving the system.

The flawed IT system is only the latest problem plaguing FEMA. The agency has long been scrutinized for its responses to previous disasters, especially when it comes to administering financial relief.

Just last week, an IG report revealed that auditors who are still reviewing Hurricane Katrina aid relief (from nine years ago) found at least $4.7 million in federal grants for victims in Mississippi had either not been used appropriately or not been used at all.

Now the agency is considering attempting to recoup that money.  

Related: Reckless Federal Shopping Spree Could Squander $50B

Similarly, just a few years after Hurricane Katrina, auditors revealed that the agency had sent out improper payments to thousands of storm victims – totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. The agency eventually had to send out letters to the victims asking them to return the millions of dollars deemed questionable – sometimes years after the checks had already been cashed and the money already spent.

Likewise, an investigation by the Associated Press found that FEMA had misallocated about $5.8 million in the 2012 Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Now two years later, it’s again asking victims to pay the money back.

This has caused serious concern among victims – many of whom may have trouble coming up with their share of the money.

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