The Federal Emergency Management Agency is working “57 active parallel disaster declarations right now, across every state, DC, the territories, and several tribes,” according to Chris Currie, Director of Emergency Management, Disaster Recovery and DHS Management Issues at GAO. The House Homeland Security Committee is conducting oversight of FEMA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Government Accountability Office report.
Currie explained that DHS and FEMA are facing contracting challenges, which they faced in previous disasters including Hurricane Katrina, but that the current pandemic is “multiplying that by 50,” Currie said. He noted that other federal troops, mainly the Department of Defense, have been helping with contracting expertise and resources.
Medical supply acquisition and distribution has also been an area of difficulty. Currie said that there was an inadequate strategic national stockpile, which is managed by HHS, and that HHS lacked the ability to get the supplies where they were needed. He explained that “the first step was to set up new structures to actually be able to get the PPE where it’s needed, contract for the PPE they don’t have, and then get it sent out to the states.” An effort is being undertaken to develop systems to manage and track these supplies throughout the entire country. GAO is looking at these efforts and the response of FEMA, the DoD, and HHS to the PPE requests, which primarily come through FEMA.
Currie also discussed another issue, noting that GAO reported in May 2020 that FEMA has not always completed after-action reports in disaster situations, and that there is often no follow-up. “Many times,” Currie stated, “kind of like this pandemic, you have a whole-of-government, multi-agency response. Some agencies will do good after-action reporting and follow-up; others won’t do it at all.”