July 17, 2018

DeFazio, Titus Question FEMA Over Staffing Shortages, Ability to Respond to Disasters

July 17, 2018

The Honorable William B. "Brock" Long


Federal Emergency Management Agency

500 C St. SW

Washington, DC 20024-2523


Dear Administrator Long:

We write to express our concern over the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) depleted workforce. The Nation is in the midst of tornado season, hurricane season started June 1, wildfire season is ongoing, and we are subject to the year-round threat of flood and other storm events. FEMA cannot afford to be short-staffed at this critical time.

FEMA has a crucial role in responding to events that can quickly turn devastating and can far exceed local, state, tribal, and territorial governments’ response capabilities. That is why these situations require quick, purposeful Federal assistance to our fellow Americans. Recent news reports[1] indicating that FEMA is not at full capacity and therefore not able to respond to large events are disturbing. Moreover, FEMA’s recently released 2017 Hurricane Season FEMA After-Action Report acknowledges the consequences of an insufficient workforce on disaster response. In order to provide Americans with the decisive help they need when facing such daunting disasters, FEMA must correct this deficiency immediately.

According to a briefing provided by FEMA to Committee staff, FEMA anticipates it needs 10,928 reservists to respond adequately to ongoing and future disasters. Yet, in that same briefing, the agency indicated that it only had 6,749 reservists on call, a 42 percent shortfall from what FEMA needs. Of those 6,749 reservists, FEMA has deployed 2,383 reservists to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Houston, and locations of other ongoing disasters. This leaves FEMA with only 4,366 available for deployment to future disasters. Even more disturbing, only 62 percent of the 6,749 reservists have demonstrated knowledge and skills in particular incident management positions through the FEMA Qualification System.

In 2016, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) internal watchdog highlighted FEMA’s inability to deploy trained reservist staff quickly.[2] The DHS Inspector General’s report on that subject notes FEMA has struggled with hiring the reservists it desperately needs.[3] Given the lengthy nature of FEMA’s hiring and training process, we are concerned that the agency is far behind the curve when it comes to hiring and training a sufficient number of employees to respond effectively to inevitable disasters.

And then there is the additional problem of reservists who do not respond to requests for mobilization. Last year it was reported that at least 500 reservists, or one out of every 12 workers, ignored FEMA’s deployment request.[4] Because reservists are allowed to turn down three assignments every year, FEMA cannot always count on a full reserve force during peak periods. Many reservists have even indicated that they are in no position to accept month-long assignments. Coupled with high turnover rates, FEMA has a number of job openings across the agency in key positions. Meanwhile, the positions that are filled have many dispatched officers who are unfamiliar with the procedures of the agency. According to Reuters, out of all the FEMA staff who specialize in directing Federal aid to cleanup efforts, only 13 percent are available for mobilization.[5] This lack of readiness must be addressed immediately.

It is critical that disaster relief services run as efficiently and effectively as possible. That is why we are requesting a response to the following questions:

  1. How many FTE positions at FEMA are authorized, and how many are vacant? Please provide this information by headquarters and region as well as by office and administrator at both the headquarters and regional level.
  2. How many reservist positions at FEMA are authorized, and how many are vacant? How many reservists has FEMA currently deployed?
  3. Please confirm how many FEMA workers (FTEs and reservists) are available to deploy for future disasters. How does that number compare to the corresponding figure for last year? Please specify by FTE and reserve workforce.
  4. Please provide a copy of FEMA’s plan for filling all available positions, including efforts to reach out to minority-serving institutions.
  5. What are some of the time constraints within FEMA’s hiring and training process, and how do these constraints affect the number of reserves available for mobilization?

If you have questions about this request, please contact Janet Erickson with the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure at (202) 225-9961.  Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.