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FEMA

Federal Emergency Management Agency

  • FEMA Must Take Additional Steps to Better Address Employee Allegations of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Misconduct

    Executive Summary

    FEMA does not always appropriately report and investigate employee allegations of sexual harassment and workplace sexual misconduct.  For FYs 2012 to 2018, we identified 305 allegations from FEMA employees potentially related to sexual harassment and sexual misconduct such as sexual assault, unwelcome sexual advances, and inappropriate sexual comments.  However, we were unable to determine whether FEMA properly handled 153 of these allegations, because it could not provide complete investigative and disciplinary files.  For allegations that had complete files available, at times we were unable to determine whether FEMA conducted an investigation.  Finally, we found FEMA did not document whether it investigated some sexual harassment EEO complaints as potential employee misconduct.  We attribute the inconsistent investigations and incomplete files to inadequate policies, processes, and training. These shortcomings may fuel employee perceptions that FEMA is not addressing sexual harassment and sexual misconduct and is not supportive of employees reporting that type of behavior.  We made five recommendations to improve FEMA’s handling of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations including establishing a comprehensive case management system; developing and implementing formal processes and procedures to appropriately address all harassment allegations; providing investigative training; and ensuring allegations are appropriately referred to DHS OIG.

    Report Number
    OIG-21-71
    Issue Date
    Document File
    DHS Agency
    Fiscal Year
    2021
  • Lessons Learned from FEMA's Initial Response to COVID-19

    Executive Summary

    FEMA did not have reliable data to inform allocation decisions and ensure accurate adjudication of resource requests, it did not have a process to allocate the limited supply of PPE, and FEMA’s strategic documents did not clearly outline roles and responsibilities to lead the Federal response.  We made three recommendations that FEMA improve the reliability of WebEOC, formally document the policies and procedures for allocating critical lifesaving supplies and equipment, and that FEMA work with the Secretary of Health and Human Services to clarify the agencies’ pandemic response roles and responsibilities under Stafford Act declarations.  FEMA concurred with all three recommendations which remain open and resolved.

    Report Number
    OIG-21-64
    Issue Date
    Document File
    DHS Agency
    Fiscal Year
    2021
  • FEMA Prematurely Obligated $478 Million in Public Assistance Funds from FY 2017 through FY 2019

    Executive Summary

    FEMA did not use its SFM initiative to ensure that Public Assistance (PA) funds were obligated in accordance with Federal, Department, and component requirements.  Specifically, FEMA obligated PA funds for 83 projects from fiscal years 2017 through 2019 that we reviewed, even though the subrecipients did not need the funding until after 180 days, which made them eligible for incremental obligation under SFM.  This occurred because FEMA did not provide adequate oversight to its Regions.  FEMA relied on the Regions’ decisions to determine whether subrecipients’ projects were eligible for SFM funding, without ensuring there was sufficient supporting documentation to validate the determinations.  This increases the risk of projects being over obligated.  As a result, FEMA is not meeting the intent of SFM, which is to better manage resources in the Disaster Relief Fund to fulfill present and future disaster funding requirements.  We made two recommendations that, when implemented, should improve FEMA’s management and oversight of the Disaster Relief Fund.  FEMA concurred with the recommendations. 

    Report Number
    OIG-21-54
    Issue Date
    Document File
    DHS Agency
    Fiscal Year
    2021
  • Inadequate FEMA Oversight Delayed Completion and Closeout of Louisiana's Public Assistance Projects

    Executive Summary

    FEMA did not ensure Louisiana adequately managed and provided oversight of PA grants to make certain they complied with Federal regulations.  Specifically, Louisiana had a backlog of 600 incomplete projects beyond their approved completion dates.  We attributed this to the State not conducting regular site visits to assess subrecipients’ ongoing projects, identify and resolve issues as they arose, or ensure prompt project completion.  In addition, FEMA had a backlog of 2,150 completed grant projects it had not closed out due to inadequate oversight of its Region 6 staff to ensure they promptly carried out this responsibility.  As of the fourth quarter of 2018, the combined backlog of 2,750 grant projects represented nearly $6.6 billion in obligated funds.  By May 2020, FEMA had reduced the backlog, but the significant number of remaining projects could lead to delays reimbursing applicants as well as deobligating funds that could be put to better use.  We made three recommendations to FEMA to strengthen its oversight of project completion and closeout processes to ensure they are timely and compliant.  FEMA concurred with one recommendation and did not concur with two.  However, FEMA’s responses resulted in all three recommendations being considered open and unresolved.

    Report Number
    OIG-21-50
    Issue Date
    Document File
    DHS Agency
    Fiscal Year
    2021
  • FEMA Must Strengthen Its Responsibility Determination Process

    Executive Summary

    Specifically, in reviewing 16 contract files, we found files that did not have relevant Federal tax information, were missing information on the contractor’s past performance evaluations, and contained incomplete and inconsistent documentation.  We attribute these deficiencies to FEMA not providing guidance on procedures for implementing Federal regulations to contracting personnel, and the Department of Homeland Security removing guidance from its acquisition manual that is used by component personnel.  As a result of inadequate guidance, FEMA personnel awarded contracts without making fully informed determinations as to whether prospective contractors could meet contract demands.  If contractors cannot meet demands, FEMA may have to cancel contracts it has awarded, which has happened in the past and continues.  In fact, between March and May 2020, FEMA awarded and canceled at least 22 contracts, valued at $184 million, for crucial supplies in response to the national COVID-19 pandemic.  By awarding contracts without ensuring prospective contractors can meet contract demands, FEMA will continue wasting taxpayer dollars and future critical disaster and pandemic assistance will continue to be delayed.  We made one recommendation that, when implemented, should help strengthen FEMA’s responsibility determination process.  The Department concurred with our recommendation. 

    Report Number
    OIG-21-44
    Issue Date
    Document File
    DHS Agency
    Fiscal Year
    2021
  • FEMA Has Not Prioritized Compliance with the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, Hindering Its Ability to Reduce Repetitive Damages to Roads and Bridges

    Executive Summary

    FEMA has not prioritized compliance with the DMA 2000.  According to FEMA officials, the agency has instead focused on immediate needs of disaster operations and other high- profile initiatives necessary to carry out its mission.  As such, FEMA has not published regulations and related policies as required by the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act) to reduce repetitive damages to facilities, including the Nation’s roads and bridges.  We made four recommendations to FEMA, including that FEMA should prioritize the DMA 2000 by addressing the unresolved implementation issues and publishing a regulation as required. 

    Report Number
    OIG-21-43
    Issue Date
    Document File
    DHS Agency
    Fiscal Year
    2021
  • FEMA Initiated the Hurricane Harvey Direct Housing Assistance Agreement without Necessary Processes and Controls

    Executive Summary

    FEMA’s Intergovernmental Service Agreement (IGSA) with the Texas General Land Office (TxGLO) was appropriate to ensure direct housing assistance program compliance with applicable laws and regulations.  However, FEMA initiated the IGSA without first developing the processes and controls TxGLO needed to administer the program.  As a result, FEMA and the State had to develop and finalize implementation guidelines after signing the IGSA, delaying TxGLO’s disaster response.  In addition, FEMA disaster personnel had to prepare the necessary guidance, toolkits, and training resources while simultaneously responding to Hurricane Harvey.  Also, FEMA used workarounds and TxGLO set up a separate system, creating additional operational challenges and inefficiencies.  We made three recommendations to improve future state administered direct housing assistance efforts.  FEMA concurred with all three recommendations. 

    Report Number
    OIG-21-42
    Issue Date
    Document File
    DHS Agency
    Fiscal Year
    2021
  • FEMA's Efforts to Provide Funds to Reconstruct the Vieques Community Health Center

    Executive Summary

    We determined that FEMA followed applicable laws, regulations, and guidance in its efforts to provide funding for reconstruction of the Vieques’ Community Health Center.  FEMA’s assessment of the funding needs for the project is complete and $39,569,695 (Federal share) was obligated on January 21, 2020 for a full facility replacement.  We did not make any recommendations but announced an audit to assess FEMA’s Public Assistance Program Alternative Procedures process for all permanent work projects.

    Report Number
    OIG-21-41
    Issue Date
    Document File
    DHS Agency
    Fiscal Year
    2021
  • Four Individuals Indicted for Fraudulently Obtaining Pandemic Unemployment Benefits for Virginia Prison Inmates

    For Information Contact

    Public Affairs (202) 254-4100

    For Immediate Release

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    NORFOLK, Va. – A federal grand jury returned an indictment yesterday charging four individuals with allegedly participating in a conspiracy to use the personal identifying information of 35 Virginia prison inmates in order to fraudulently obtain over $300,000 in pandemic-related unemployment benefits.    

    “As alleged in the indictment, the defendants deliberately stole funds intended for members of our community who have faced financial hardship and unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “EDVA will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to safeguard these critical taxpayer-funded resources and hold accountable those who unlawfully line their pockets at the expense of the American people.”

    According to the indictment, Mary Benton, 38, of Portsmouth, and Angelica CartwrightPowers, 35, of Norfolk, allegedly worked with two inmates at Virginia correctional institutions to collect the personally identifiable information of other inmates to fraudulently apply for Virginia unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Benton allegedly submitted successful applications for Virginia unemployment benefits for 31 inmates across three Virginia correctional facilities. Cartwright-Powers allegedly submitted successful applications for four inmates at one correctional facility. 

    “Fraudulently exploiting COVID-19 relief funds for personal gain is unconscionable,” said Joseph V. Cuffari, Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security. “Today’s indictment sends a clear message that DHS OIG will fully investigate fraud affecting FEMA funds and continue to work with our law enforcement partners to bring an end to these
    schemes.”

    “Investigating fraud involving the Unemployment Insurance Program is an important part of the mission of the U.S. Department of Labor - Office of Inspector General, particularly during a time when our nation is providing billions of dollars in unemployment benefits to American workers in need of assistance due to the continuing economic effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” said Derek Pickle, Special Agent in Charge of the Washington, DC Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to vigorously investigate unemployment insurance fraud.”

    According to the indictment, co-conspirator Michael Lee Lewis, Jr., 41, of Chesapeake, allegedly provided information for inmates at the Augusta Correctional Center, where he was incarcerated. Michael Anthony White, 38, of Chesapeake, allegedly provided information for inmates at the Lawrenceville Correctional Center, where he was incarcerated. The four individuals charged in this indictment, along with the prisoners whose information was used for the unemployment applications, allegedly shared the proceeds of their crimes, which amounted to approximately $334,667. Although the conspirators initially and allegedly obtained $436,834, the Virginia Employment Commission was able to reclaim some of the disbursed funds after discovering the fraud.

    During the pandemic, both the federal government and the Virginia Employment Commission expanded unemployment benefits both by increasing the monetary amount, and by making benefits accessible for the self-employed, contractors, and gig workers, who have not historically qualified for unemployment. However, inmates remained ineligible for such benefits, and each application that Benton and Cartwright-Powers submitted allegedly contained numerous false statements that made the application successful, such as the inmates’ contact information and last employer, and that they were ready and willing to work.

    Benton is charged with one count of conspiracy, three counts of fraud in connection with major disaster benefits, and three counts of mail fraud. Lewis and White are each charged with one count of conspiracy and two counts of mail fraud. Cartwright-Powers is charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of fraud in connection with major disaster benefits, and one count of mail fraud. If convicted, the conspirators face a maximum of five years in prison on the conspiracy count and thirty years in prison on each fraud count.  Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. 

    Raj Parekh, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Joseph V. Cuffari, Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security; Derek Pickle, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Washington, DC Regional Office, U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General; and Paul Haymes, Chief of Investigations, Virginia Department of Corrections, Special Investigations Unit, made the announcement.

    This investigation was conducted under the auspices of “Operation Checkmate,” the Virginia Department of Corrections Inmate Unemployment Insurance Fraud Task Force.  The task force is led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, DOLOIG, DHS-OIG, and the Virginia Department of Corrections. This investigation included assistance from the U.S. Secret Service’s Richmond Field Office, the Portsmouth Police Department, and the Virginia Employment Commission.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca Gantt is prosecuting the case.

    A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 2:21-cr-33. An indictment is merely an accusation. The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
     

    DHS Agency