Military Operations: DOD's Disaster Relief Assistance in Response to Hurricane Mitch

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-03-29.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

      United States

3A0   General Accounting Office
      Washington,   D.C. 20548

      National Security and
      International Affairs Division


      March 29,1999

      The Honorable Jerry Lewis
      Chairman, Subcommittee on Defense
      Committee on Appropriations
      House of Representatives

      Subject: Militarv ODerations: DOD’s Disaster Relief Assistance                in Response to
      Hurricane Mitch

      Dear Mr. Chairman:

      In October 1998, Central America was hit by Hurricane Mitch, the most deadly
      hurricane in the Atlantic in over 200 years. In response to this natural disaster, the
      Department of Defense (DOD), in conjunction with other federal agencies, undertook
      disaster relief efforts. This letter responds to your request that we examine DOD’s
      relief efforts in Central America in the wake of Hurricane Mitch! Specifically, you
      asked that we provide information on the scope of DOD’s efforts in response to
      Hurricane Mitch and their cost. This letter is part of a broader review that you
      requested of DOD’s fiscal year 1999 contingency operations costs. We will report the
      results of our work on other DOD contingency operations, including the operations in
      Bosnia and Southwest Asia, at a later date.

      Hurricane Mitch caused an unprecedented loss of life and destruction.   Over 8,200
      people died, approximately 9,400 are missing, and another 2.7 million people are
      either displaced or homeless. Additionally, 356 bridges and hundreds of miles of
      roads were damaged or destroyed from the severe flooding. In addition, Hurricane
      Georges struck the Caribbean in September 1998, causing significant damage in the
      Dominican Republic. The combined damage resulting from Hurricanes Mitch and
      Georges was estimated at over $10 billion.

      I The large majority of DOD’s costs are for Hurricane Mitch disaster relief and restoration. DOD is also
      providing some restoration assistance in the Dominican Republic in response to the damage caused
      there by Hurricane Georges, the costs of which are included with those of Hurricane Mitch. In this
      letter we use the term Hurricane Mitch to include DOD’s Hurricane Georges restoration efforts as well
      as all DOD efforts related to Hurricane Mitch.

                                                 GAO/NSUD-99-122R DOD Hurricane Mitch Assistance

Honduras and Nicaragua were most affected by Hurricane Mitch. Mudslides and
floods had wiped out entire towns, destroyed the countries’ crops and infrastructure
(roads, bridges, power, water), and isolated large numbers of people from relief.
Guatemala and El Salvador also suffered significant damage. All the affected
countries have declared disaster emergencies and received funding from the
Department of State’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) to help with
relief efforts. OFDA is the lead federal agency responsible for funding and managing
all federal government efforts supporting foreign disaster relief operations.

On February 16,1999, the President submitted a request for emergency fiscal year
1999 supplemental appropriations of $956 million for emergency disaster and
reconstruction assistance. Of this amount, $188.5 million was requested for DOD.
The remainder was requested for international     assistance programs administered by
the United States Agency for International   Development and the Department of
Justice. At least 25 other countries also provided financial support for relief
assistance and other countries provided material and services.

DOD’s Hurricane Mitch disaster relief assistance has been broad in scope. Initially,
DOD provided life-saving assistance, which was followed by infrastructure repairs
 and medical services. At present, DOD is providing restoration assistance as part of
joint-training readiness exercises for combat engineers and medical reserve forces, a
 byproduct of which will be humanitarian and civic assistance.

DOD’s estimated fiscal year 1999 costs for these relief efforts totals $223 million. To
fund these efforts, the President submitted a request in February 1999 for emergency
supplemental appropriations of $956 million, including $188.5 million for DOD. The
funds requested for DOD are intended to replenish the accounts DOD initially used to
fund the cost of Hurricane Mitch disaster relief assistance and to fund the restoration
assistance. There are three reasons for the $34.5 million difference between the DOD
cost and requested funding: some previously planned activities financed by the
Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) account could not be
rescheduled, some of the funds used were provided by the State Department, and the
funding requested for restoration assistance does not reflect all expected costs.

DOD has undertaken a broad range of disaster relief activities. Its U.S. Southern
Command (SOUTHCOM) immediately responded to the aftereffects of Hurricane
Mitch, beginning relief efforts on October 31, 1998. These relief efforts are being
provided in three distinct operational phases. Personnel from all services, the
National Guard, and the Reserves are involved in these efforts.

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                                    GAO/NSIAD-99-122R DOD Hurricane Mitch Assistance

Phase I, the emergency phase, focused on immediate life-saving assistance to people
in dire need. This phase lasted from early-November through mid-December 1998,
and it included about 2,100 U.S. military personnel who participated in life-saving
missions and the emergency delivery of relief supplies and medical assistance. In
addition to saving lives, immediate goals were to minister to the sick and wounded
and to provide food, potable water, and airlift to remote or cutoff areas. During this
initial phase, 45 U.S. aircraft flew 640 missions, and DOD personnel rescued more
than 1,000 people; treated more than 3,400 sick and injured people; and distributed
over 130,800 pounds of medical supplies, 3 million pounds of food, and 120,400
gallons of water. Because of severe damage to transportation    infrastructure, DOD
airlift support was the primary means of emergency relief.

Phase II, the rehabilitation  phase, focused on the continued provision of medical
services, including preventative medicine and disease control, and on infrastructure
repairs required to reestablish national capabilities to provide for the health and basic
welfare of the populace. This phase, which occurred between mid-December 1998
and mid-February 1999, involved over 5,300 active duty military personnel and 63
aircraft that delivered over 6,400 short tons of supplies and equipment. The goal of
this phase was to provide temporary bridging, road reconstruction, and other
infrastructure projects, including building or rebuilding clinics and digging wells.
DOD established hundreds of temporary medical clinics, treating over 27,000 persons
and 7,000 animals. It also completed numerous engineering projects, including
reconstructing approximately 90 miles of roads, constructing 18 bypasses and 4
bridges, repairing 2 clinics and 2 schools, building 1 clinic and 2 schools, and drilling 4

Phase III, the restoration phase, is scheduled from mid-February through September
1999. In this phase, the focus is on maintaining a U.S. military presence in the
affected countries as U.S. assistance transitions from rehabilitation efforts to the
nation rebuilding efforts orchestrated by other Federal agencies. This phase builds
on an ongoing SOUTHCOM exercise program called New Horizons. In this program,
National Guard and Reserve medical and engineer units conduct their 2-week annual
training in Central America. SOUTHCOM has added five additional exercises to
support the efforts of host nations to reconstruct their countries to pre-hurricane
levels. About 23,000 National Guard and Reserve personnel from 30 states are
involved in the exercises in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador as well
as in the Dominican Republic, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Georges.
Although these nations will receive incidental benefits in terms of humanitarian and
civic assistance, the primary purpose of the exercises according to DOD is to improve
the joint- training readiness of the participating National Guard and Reserve engineer
and medical units. The Enhanced New Horizons exercises include 166 humanitarian
assistance and civic aid projects to restore 12 clinics; to repair 56 miles of roads, 26
bypasses, and 2 bridges; to drill 27 wells; to repair 33 schools; and to provide medical
assistance during 39 medical readiness training exercises.

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                                     GAO/NSIAD-99-122R DOD Hurricane Mitch Assistance


DOD’s cost for Hurricane Mitch relief efforts is estimated at $223 million, including
$155 million for phases I and II and $68 million for phase III. To provide funding for
these costs, the President included $188.5 million for DOD in his request for
supplemental appropriations to replenish DOD accounts initially used to fund the
cost of Hurricane Mitch disaster relief assistance and to fund phase III. There are
three reasons for the $34.5 million difference between the DOD cost and requested
funding: some previously planned activities financed by the OHDACA account could
not be rescheduled, some of the funds used were provided by the State Department,
and the funding requested for the Phase III restoration assistance does not reflect all
expected costs. Of the three, only the third represents a gap between estimated costs
and requested funding. Table 1 summarizes the cost and funding for DOD’s Hurricane
Mitch relief efforts by operational phases.

Table 1: DOD’s Hurricane Mitch Estimated Costs, Suwlemental    Reauest,
and Difference bv Ooerational Phases
(Dollars in millions)

 DOD’s relief effort        Estimated cost of   Supplemental   Difference
 operational phase          relief operations   request

 Phases I and II a          $155.0              $132.5         $22.5

 Phase III                  $ 68.0              $ 56.0         $12.0

 Total                      $223.0              $188.5         $34.5

aDOD combined these two phasesfor funding purposes.

To fund phase I and II relief efforts, DOD used $75 million in drawdown authority
approved by the President, $50 million from the OHDACA account, $20 million from
the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Commander-in-Chief Initiative Fund (CIF)
account, and $10 million transferred to DOD from OFDA. These latter funds were
State Department funds. The supplemental appropriations request includes $56
million to fund phase III. Table 2 shows DOD’s Hurricane Mitch funding sources,
funding provided from these sources, requested supplemental amounts, and
differences between DOD’s costs and the supplemental request.

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                                       GAO/NSIAD-99-122R DOD Hurricane Mitch Assistance

Table 2: DOD’s Hurricane Mitch Fundinq Sources, Funds Provided,
and Requested Supplemental Fundinq
(Dollars in millions)

 DOD’s Hurricane Mitch      Funding source   Supplemental    Difference
 funding sources            amount           request

 Drawdown Authority         $75.0            $75.0             0

 Overseas Humanitarian,     $50.0            $37.5           $12.5
 Disaster, and Civic
 Action funds

 Chairman of the Joint      $20.0            $20.0             0
 Chiefs of Staff
 Initiative Fund

 State Department Off ice   $10.0               0            $10.0
 of Foreign Disaster
 Assistance funds
 transferred to DOD

 New funding                $ 68.0           $56.0           $12.0

 Total                      $223.0           $188.5          $34.5

DOD has spent the $75 million in drawdown authority, and the supplemental request
asks for full reimbursement.    In November 1998, the President approved a drawdown
df up to $75 million in articles and services to provide emergency disaster assistance
to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The President determined that
a strong U.S. response to save lives and assist in reestablishing basic infrastructure
was essential if these nations were to resume their economic growth, maintain
political stability, and deepen democracy. This drawdown authority allowed DOD to
use existing inventory and resources for its relief efforts. With these funds, DOD
deployed and redeployed forces and materiel between the continental United States
and Central America, financed temporary duty travel expenses for deployed forces,
and will reconstitute equipment once it is redeployed. Unless the drawdown amount
is replenished, the Services will have to absorb the $75 million from their operation
and maintenance accounts used to finance the drawdown.

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                                     GAOLWAD-99-122R DOD Hurricane Mitch Assistance

DOD is spending the funds provided through the OHDACA ($50 million) and CIF ($20
million) accounts on in-country humanitarian activities. These include flying
hundreds of rotary and fixed wing airlift missions to distribute supplies, food, and
water; purchasing construction material and supplies needed to support 67 individual
engineering projects; operating the temporary base camps housing over 5,000 troops
at its two Joint Task Forces locations; purchasing medical supplies; setting up
temporary medical clinics to treat thousands of persons; and resupplying military
forces in Central America. The supplemental request includes .$37.5 million to
partially replenish the OHDACA account and $20 million to replenish the Chairman’s
CIF account. However, in March 1999, the Army estimated that it would return about
$3 million to the OHDACA account and about $5 million to the CIF account as it
finalizes reconciling its accounting records and completes all redeployment.    This
could reduce the cost and associated funding needs of the relief effort.

The $37.5 million requested for the OHDACA account represents restoration of 75
percent of the originally appropriated $50 million funding level. Full reimbursement
was not requested because some activities that were previously planned cannot be
rescheduled. According to DOD, the OHDACA funds are needed to conduct
humanitarian activities, including demining, during the year or to respond to any
future humanitarian crisis.’

The CIF account may be used by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to provide
up to $25 million in fiscal year 1999 to combatant commanders for a variety of
purposes. These can include force training, contingencies, selected operations,
command and control, joint exercises, and humanitarian and civic assistance. The
funding provided for Hurricane Mitch relief efforts falls within the authorized uses of
these funds. DOD specifically asked that the full $20 million provided from the CIF
account be reimbursed to support his commanders-m-chief        in honing the warfighting
capabilities and readiness of their forces. The effect of the supplemental request
would be to almost double the original appropriation.

DOD used the $10 million in funding provided it by OFDA to help finance phase I
flying hour costs and to purchase construction supplies and materials used by DOD
engineers for repairing roads, bridges, schools, and clinics- It also used some of these
funds to purchase two commercial bridges for Honduras to ensure timely completion
of the bridging projects before U.S. forces redeployed. The Administration    did not
include reimbursement of this money to the State Department in its supplemental

’ According to an official in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), about $34 million of
the appropriated OHDACA amount was to be used for DOD’s demining efforts. The funding request
would restore the full $34 million for demining and provide DOD with an additional $3.5 million for any
humanitarian crises.

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                                           GAO/NXAD-99-122R DOD Hurricane Mitch Assistance

The Administration    requested $56 million to fund DOD’s phase III Enhanced New
Horizons exercises. These five additional exercises complement the two previously
scheduled and funded New Horizons exercises in Honduras and Guatemala. The
supplemental request is to fund the Guard and Reserve’s military personnel, the
Services’ operation and maintenance, and the Joint Staffs exercise accounts. Funds
will be used to transport reserve military units, supplies, and equipment; to finance
predeployment costs; to sustain forces in-country by establishing duration staff in
each country to deploy, receive equipment, and coordinate project scheduling and
temporary base operations; and to operate a forward control element. However,
according to officials in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), the
estimated cost of this phase as of March 1999 is understated by $12 million. The
estimate used to develop the supplemental request was not updated to include the
cost of National Guard and Reserve pay and allowances associated with the duration

To assess DOD’s Hurricane Mitch relief efforts, we obtained documents and
interviewed officials from the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Comptroller); the
Department of the Army in Washington, D.C.; the Army’s Forces Command in Atlanta,
Georgia; and SOUTHCOM in Miami, Florida. The information that we gathered
included details about DOD’s role and response to the Central American countries
affected by Hurricane Mitch, the extent and status of relief efforts, the estimated cost
of these efforts, and the source of funds used to provide this disaster assistance. We
also reviewed the President’s February 16,1999, request to Congress for
supplemental appropriations     for DOD and other agencies for this disaster assistance.

We performed our work between January and February 1999 in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing standards. We reviewed the information in
this letter with DOD officials and made changes where appropriate. We will continue
to review the cost of DOD’s other fiscal year 1999 contingency operations. As work
progresses, we will keep you apprised of our results.

We are sending copies of this letter to The Honorable William Cohen, Secretary of
Defense; The Honorable William J. Lynn, Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller);
and The Honorable Jacob Lew, Director, Office of Management and Budget. Copies
will also be made available to others upon request. Principal contributors to this
report were Steve Sternlieb, Assistant Director, JosephRutecki, Evaluator-in-Charge,

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                                    GAO/NSIAD-99-122R DOD Hurricane Mitch Assistance

and Bonita Anderson, Senior Evaluator. If you or your staff have any further
questions concerning this issue, please contact me at (202) 512-4300.

Sincerely yours,

Donna M. Heivilin
Director of Planning and Reporting


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                                     GAONXAD-99-122R     DOD Hurricane Mitch Assistance
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