Watchdog: FEMA Needs Better Plan for ‘Cobbled Together’ IT Systems

Gil C/Shutterstock.com

By its own admission, FEMA’s IT environment is a tangled morass of systems and applications.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency needs to switch from disaster mode and begin to think more long term when it comes to upgrading its IT environment.

That’s according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, which reviewed the agency’s IT modernization plans.

By its own admission, FEMA’s IT environment is a tangled morass of systems and applications riddled with duplication and inefficiencies.

The agency’s current systems “have been neglected or cobbled together based on immediate needs ... often without an orchestrated FEMA-wide approach for acquiring and managing IT,” GAO auditors wrote in report, which was published May 5.

For example, the agency’s systems, by and large, are not “intuitive,” the report noted. Employees “spend significant time” logging into various systems just to complete basic forms. Employees at regional sites have to remember 18 to 20 passwords “to access systems that minimally support their work needs,” auditors noted.  

More than half of the agency’s physical servers are more than 5 years old, “increasing the risk of hardware failures that could affect the delivery of mission-essential systems,” GAO noted.

FEMA spent about $366.4 million of its $14.7 billion budget on IT investments last year, according to agency data.

FEMA has been working to upgrade some systems as part of a broader IT modernization effort. But the agency is working from a dated playbook, GAO said.

The agency is working from a strategic plan that hasn’t been updated since 2013, even though officials are supposed to update it annually.

FEMA IT officials acknowledged the original strategy is no longer up to date.

“The CIO explained that updating the current strategic plan had not been a priority and the agency would rather spend resources on developing a new plan that incorporates a global FEMA IT strategic vision,” auditors characterized the agency’s response.

» Get the best federal technology news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

That new approach is a 5-year IT modernization plan based on results from a “resiliency review” of the agency’s IT systems and findings from the “cybersecurity sprint,” the governmentwide cyber check-up initiated last summer by the White House in the wake of the massive personnel records hack, officials told GAO.

The draft modernization plan was finished in December but was still awaiting final review at the time of GAO’s review. FEMA officials at the time were unable to provide a date for when the revised modernization plan would be completed.

“As a result, the agency is limited in its ability to move toward its goal to modernize its systems and eliminate duplicative IT investments,” GAO concluded. In follow-up comments, the agency said it planned to have final sign-off on the plan by the end of April. Nextgov has requested comment from FEMA.

Lawmakers requested the GAO review to gauge FEMA’s progress implementing the 2006 Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act. That legislation required FEMA to address longstanding shortcomings in agency management, including improving the agency’s IT programs, that became clear after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast in 2005.

GAO also made recommendations for shoring up the agency’s investment review board -- made up of senior IT executives and other agency officials -- which selects and oversees IT investments. In addition, auditors recommended FEMA come up with a plan for plugging skills gaps in the agency’s IT shop, which employs 300 federal employees and some 228 contractors.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.