Modernized FEMA system still has legacy data issues

Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency's recent modernization of a 30-year-old flood insurance system works well, it still uses old legacy data, according to a new report.

Shutterstock image ID: 738923143 Editorial credit: bakdc

Even though the Federal Emergency Management Agency's modernized flood insurance system works very well, it is still fueled by flawed legacy data, according to a Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General report.

A legacy system that takes in flood insurance data from insurers and tracks claims and policies has dramatically reduced claims processing times from two months to almost real-time, said the report. Despite the new system's speed, the data the system manages didn't get the modernization treatment, according to the report.

FEMA's Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration began modernizing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) system in 2018, moving to a new web-based processing system called "PIVOT," over the last couple of years.

That modernization work continues. In mid-October, DHS signed a $135 million task order under the General Services Administration's Alliant 2 governmentwide acquisition contract with ACE Info Solutions for product development and enhancement, data analytics, end user support, program management, and security.

The NFIP was retired in 2019 and was showing its age, according to the report. It had included almost 20 mainframe batch systems, subsystems and dozens of other local area network systems, it said. The systems were not fully integrated, but were interoperable, chugging along for all those years, according to the report.

The NFIP took in claims data from insurance companies and "write your own" policies that allowed them to interpret rules to create their own flood insurance policies.

That's where the system ran into data quality issues over time, according to the report. Insurance companies interpreted the rules in different ways. Those differences resulted in NFIP data that was historically flawed because of the system's slow reconciliation processing that approved or rejected policies.

The DHS OIG report lauded the PIVOT modernization effort, but in prioritizing the system modernization, FEMA neglected to solve the "longstanding data reliability issues" that transferred from the old system.

It said Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration moved the "vast majority of its historical legacy data, including errors, into the PIVOT system." Additionally, the report PIVOT was deployed without controls to prevent erroneous transactions from being taken up by the system.

"These issues remained unresolved because [the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration] prioritized system modernization over time-consuming efforts to fix historical data errors," it said.

The report recommended a strategy to hold PIVOT vendors accountable for correcting transaction errors and improving data quality on the system. It also recommended making data quality assessment part of PIVOT's modernization reviews and reports, as well as make users aware of the data issues in NFIP-derived data on the system.

FEMA concurred with the recommendations, but explained it has taken steps to hone PIVOT's data and notify users of the issues. The system, it said, has built-in capabilities that allow it to review individual transactions and track remediation, if needed.

The agency said it will include PIVOT submission quality metrics in its operations reviews beginning in FY 2020. It also told the DHS OIG that PIVOT reports contain cover sheets, data dictionaries, and data disclaimers qualifying the use and source of the data in the system.