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Report: 38 Percent of FEMA Employees Aren't 'Qualified' for Their Jobs

At the height of the agency's deployments in the summer of 2017, 54 percent of staff were serving in a capacity for which they were not fully qualified.

TRAVIS HEYING/KRT/NewscomTRAVIS HEYING/KRT/NewscomIf it sometimes seems like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) doesn't know what it is doing, well, that might be because many FEMA employees don't know what they are doing.

As part of an ongoing review of its response to the 2017 hurricane season—a particularly bad summer that included major storms hitting Florida, Puerto Rico, and Texas—FEMA concluded that as many as 38 percent of it's workforce were unqualified for the positions they held, according to Politico. Being unqualified, in this case, means those employees had not completed mandatory training for their current position.

As a result, FEMA "placed staff in positions beyond their experiences and, in some instance, beyond their capabilities," according to the agency's internal analysis of the 2017 hurricane season.

The number of FEMA employees who are qualified for their jobs has actually ticked up since 2017. At the height of the agency's deployments in response to that summer's storms, 54 percent of staff were serving in a capacity for which they were not fully qualified, according to a September 2018 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

"FEMA officials noted that staff shortages, and lack of trained personnel with program expertise led to complications in its response efforts, particularly after Hurricane Maria," the GAO found.

While FEMA distributed more than 35 million meals in Puerto Rico after Maria made landfall, the agency's response was widely criticized for taking longer than it should have—the agency has admitted it failed to prepare adequately for the storm—and for logistical failures like leaving nearly 1 million bottles of water at an airstrip that were apparently never distributed to stricken Puerto Ricans. The storm may have killed as many as 3,000 people, though tallying the human cost has had its own problems.

It might seem like one solution to FEMA's staffing problem is to commit more funding to the agency for hiring and training. But from top to bottom, FEMA has proven itself to be a poor steward of tax dollars. Just three months ago, FEMA Administrator Brock Long was criticized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General for having blown $150,000 on personal travel expenses. Among other things, Long had hired a chauffeur to drive him from Washington, D.C., to his home in North Carolina for weekends. On at least one occasion, an aide picked up Long's children from their school, as Reason's Zuri Davis reported in September.

Others at FEMA are no better at managing the public's money. A December 2017 report by the DHS inspector general found that FEMA's "lack of process" for tracking insurance reimbursements leaves "billions of taxpayer funds" possibly wasted. In 2015, for example, FEMA spent more than $450 million—about 30 percent of its total disaster relief expenditures for the year—on "questionable costs," including "duplicate payments, unsupported costs, improper contract costs, and unauthorized expenditures," according to the DHS Office of Inspector General.

With that sort of track record, there's no reason to continue throwing money at FEMA. Instead, the lack of "qualified" employees is an opportunity to reassess exactly what FEMA is capable of doing competently with the money it has.

The federal government is probably going to continue to play some role in the aftermath of major natural disasters, but FEMA is never going to be able to react to changing on-the-ground circumstances as quickly or effectively as private operators with established ties to the effected communities and supply chains that are already in place. Think Waffle House. Or Walmart.

Perhaps FEMA should stop trying. A narrower focus could let FEMA do more with less, allowing the agency to train a smaller number of employees to handle high-level emergency response roles and keep better track of relief dollars. Offloading duties that are better handled by local or state governments and private businesses would improve FEMA's effectiveness—and, more importantly, disaster relief operations for those who need them most.

Photo Credit: TRAVIS HEYING/KRT/Newscom

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  • Juice||

    But are they qualified for heackuva jobs?

  • Juice||

    Fuck you, phone. Fuck you right in the ass.

  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    News Flash:

    100% of Reason Staff Aren't Qualified for Their Jobs

    Amirite?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Is this about using the contraction it's instead of the possessive its in that second paragraph? Because I noticed it, too.

  • shortviking||

    38% of government in general.

  • Antilles||

    Since government employees can't be fired for merely being incompetent, the only way a supervisor can get rid of a bad employee is to promote them. That's why MOST government workers aren't qualified for the jobs they hold.

  • I'm Not Sure||

    "FEMA concluded that as many as 38 percent of it's workforce were unqualified for the positions they held"

    Not to worry, no doubt they were being paid as though they were.

  • A Lady of Reason||

    Well that's idiotic!!! Stop wasting tax payer dollars!
    https://aladyofreason.wordpress.com/

  • Sevo||

    Can we assume this make FEMA a bit better than TSA?

  • shortviking||

    FEMA probably isn't full of perverts, so they're better than TSA.

    Probably.

  • esteve7||

    Why is this a shock to anyone? The government is largely a jobs program for those who couldn't work anywhere else. Many don't even hide that fact when you talk about cutting department sizes.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    Yeah, I would be shocked if FEMA was the only federal agency with a large scale incompetence problem. In fact, I rather doubt that they are anywhere near being the worst.

  • CE||

    Aren't most of us though?

  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    I know I am.

  • The Last American Hero||

    No, actually. Everybody at my organization is fully qualified and the training tsar(ina) makes sure everyone is up to date on the training/continuing education requirements. We don't hire for a position unless you have the qualifications. It doesn't mean everybody is an all star, it just means they have appropriate education, experience, and are current with their licensing requirements.

    Of course, if we come up short, we have liability exposure and could even lose the business license, unlike the government which just keeps on chugging along.

  • Ben of Houston||

    If heavy industry did anything like that, OSHA and the EPA would have our heads at the next accident.

  • Sal Paradise||

    You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie.

  • Ron||

    If the education they are lacking is in how to be PC and gender specific or sexual harasement awareness training etc then no one cares. And when it comes to dissasters you take who you can get

  • Longtobefree||

    "mandatory training"
    I don't think that phrase means what you think it does.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Modest proposal - have FEMA drop all of its capabilities, and contract with companies with a record of providing emergent support in disaster areas and an established logistics system - Walmart and FedEx come to mind.

  • Agammamon||

    Being unqualified, in this case, means those employees had not completed mandatory training for their current position.

    Ah, OK. So basically it means nothing and this isn't a problem.

    Unless you consider ever increasing credentialism a problem. Because someone has a piece of paper (or really, an entry in a database) that says they completed some training requirement where we don't know how much relevance that training requirement has for the actual job doesn't mean they aren't qualified to be in that position. Practical experience is more valuable than all the 15 minute computer courses in the world.

    FEMA has a lot of problems but not doing some training courses created by people who have no idea what your job is supposed to entail is not one of them.

  • markm23||

    In addition to the question of whether the training courses were relevant to the job, passing a course does not ensure you learned the subject.

    I was an electronics technician in the Air Force. There were three steps to being properly trained:

    1. Before I enlisted, I got high scores on the parts of a test (the ASVAB) related to the job, including mechanical and electrical knowledge, hand tools, math, and reading comprehension.

    2. Over six months of tech school, including electronics theory, soldering, and a thousand hours of courses on the equipment I would be maintaining. IIRC, we had to get above 80% on every test - and the class average was over 90%.

    3. At least six months of on the job training on the actual equipment at an active AFB.

    And yet, one in three or four of the techs never reached the point where you could hand them a malfunctioning device and expect them to troubleshoot it without staying there and guiding them through the process.

    Someone who merely passed a course is more likely to be incompetent than not. To properly train a FEMA worker, you need to simulate emergencies and have them go through the steps to respond - again and again. And even if they got through all that, I expect a significant number would fail when they found the first difference between simulations and the real world.

  • You're Kidding||

    As a former, local government employee who had to take FEMA training to be part of the required disaster preparedness team, I can say with authority that the FEMA "training" is nothing but BS. It's all about acronyms and paperwork. All to ensure that your agency will be reimbursed by FEMA after implementing their EOC and disaster response. It's government at it's absolute worse. Only a notch above authoritarianism and war.

  • BruceMajors||

    Funny. I had a friend once at a real estate company I worked at, a realtor who wasn't bad at it when she was sober, who had inherited a lot of money so that working wasn't totally necessary.

    She had had a pre-real estate career she did for some time, during which time, she told me, she was a major drug user (cocaine and probably others). She seemed to have some permanent personality/neurological change when I knew her; she was often nice but something was thin and metallic about her personality.

    Her previous career: she inspected nuclear plants for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She told me everyone she worked with did lots of drugs.

  • Echospinner||

    Nit picking but " On at least one occasion, an aide picked up Long's children from their school"

    Oh c'mon sounds like he asked someone at the office to do him a favor because he couldn't pick them up.

  • stephensam||

    During the emergency time, the NGO'S employees must know, how to manage that situation. Because it can help to save several people life. Lots of people can also easily understand the real situation and it makes gives new thoughts and positive energy.
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    http://www.angelmeds.com/dapoxetine-online.html

  • Liberty Lover||

    In a system of political nepotism, I am surprised it is that low.

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