FEMA could abolish reservist deployment cap

Tools

The Federal Emergency Management Agency could permanently do away with a limit restricting the amount of time a reservist can be deployed over a 2 year period.

FEMA officials told auditors in response to a Nov. 29 report (.pdf) recommending that they reevaluate and possibly abolish a cap stipulating that FEMA reservists--also known as disaster assistance employees--be deployed for no more than 78 weeks every 2 years that they've already temporarily suspended it.

That temporary suspension, made in December 2011, could become permanent, says the official response to the audit, signed by David Kaufman, director of the FEMA office of policy and program analysis.

Auditors say in the report the cap often isn't enforced and that several reservist cadre managers told them that enforcing it would negatively impair FEMA's ability to perform specialized tasks or maintain a single liaison to state and local officials during assistance efforts requiring protracted engagement.

FEMA reservists are on-call workers organized into 23 cadres who are deployed in the wake of a major disaster; they can comprise up to 80 percent of the workers in a temporary FEMA field office. Auditors calculate that in the 4 years from October 2006 through September 2010, FEMA deployed approximately 1,600 reservists in excess of the 78 week cap. Enforcing the cap wouldn't have saved FEMA any money, auditors say; although individual reservists earned more than permissible under the cap, "they were paid for actual work performed."

Public assistance and mitigation cadre managers told auditors they in particular have long-lived missions that would be negatively affected by a 78 week cap. Similarly, public assistance and external affairs cadre managers said they need reservists with specialized skills, and that causes them to repeatedly draw on some reservists.

Even if most cadre managers wanted to carefully track how close to the 78 week cap reservists are, they couldn't, say auditors, since the Automated Deployment Data system used to monitor overall cadre readiness doesn't notify managers when reservists are close to reaching the deployment cap and can't produce reports of reservists who are above the cap.

Some regional managers have made spreadsheets to keep track of deployment times, but keeping those spreadsheets current is time intensive.

In any case, FEMA policy may undermine attempts to stay under the cap, since cadre managers can make requests to deploy specific reservists regardless of previous deployments. Some cadre managers told auditors they also prefer to keep the number of reservists low, because managing a cadre is something they do in addition to other duties. Fewer reservists makes a cadre easier to manage--but it "also hinders a managers' ability to implement a deployment cap," auditors note.

For more:
- download the report, OIG-13-13 (.pdf)

Related Articles:
Many FEMA disaster assistance employees haven't applied for a reservist position
FEMA Reservist workforce morale 'at bottom'
FEMA reservist qualification system behind schedule, lacks IT support
FEMA proceeds with FEMA Reservist rollout