WATCHDOG: FEMA needs to address staffing shortages, ‘something bad could happen at any point’

The federal agency that helps you in crises like hurricanes and COVID-19 doesn’t have enough workers, according to a new watchdog report.

“FEMA currently faces an all-time high in disasters and an unparalleled demand on its workforce,” Chris Currie, Director of Homeland Security and Justice for the Government Accountability Office, wrote.

That workforce is short staffed.

“It’s important that FEMA have the right amount of people with the right skills all the time because something bad could happen at any point,” Currie told us.

He said workers are burnt out and leaving. These are the people who respond to hurricanes and wildfires, the ones you saw at mass vaccination clinics at the height of the pandemic.

A chart in the report illustrates the issue. The lighter blue area shows the shortage of FEMA staff. The gap is consistent. In 2022, for example, GAO said the agency was more than six-thousand disaster workers short.

The efforts to reduce the gap “are essential to meeting the needs of survivors,” Currie wrote.

“We don’t have the resources at the local level, nor at the state level,” Russ Strickland, Vice President of the National Emergency Management Association, said. “We need the federal government to be well-resourced.”

He also works with FEMA the secretary of Maryland’s Department of Emergency Management.

We asked him what it means to communities if FEMA is short-staffed.

“It means things will be late to arrive,” he responded. “It may mean we would have extended recovery times.”

FEMA is holding hiring events and using contractors. Leaders also agreed with all of the GAO recommendations and are working on the solutions.

The report also noted it is difficult to know if those hiring practices are effective because of the way FEMA gathers and keeps data.

“If we face a busy hurricane season, which is very likely, then they’re not going to have the people to respond and the response is going to suffer,” Currie added.

Full statement from FEMA Press Secretary Jeremy M. Edwards: “FEMA has some of the best emergency managers in the world supporting communities nationwide before, during and after disaster, and our dedicated workforce works hand-in-hand with federal, state and local partners, along with volunteer and non-profit agencies help people jumpstart their recovery.

“As our nation adjusts to more frequent and extreme weather events, as well as an evolving threat landscape, FEMA continues to make an enterprise-wide commitment to achieving its Force Structure and growing its workforce to meet the disaster and Homeland Security Incident needs of the nation. FEMA is already taking actions that align with this recommendation and plans to take more in the future. For example, in November 2022, FEMA published its Recruitment Plan to achieve the agency’s strategic priority of building a more diverse workforce that offers promising practices and unique perspectives in the face of complexity and adversity. “FEMA is also committed to investing in the next generation of emergency managers through initiatives such as our Youth Preparedness Council and the HBCU/Minority Serving Institutions Summer Internship Program.”

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