oversight

Observations on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Fiscal Year 2000 Performance Plan

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-07-20.

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

United States General Accounting Office                                                           Resources, Community, and
Washington, D.C. 20548                                                                        Economic Development Division




                 B-282453

                 July 20, 1999

                 The Honorable Dick Armey
                 Majority Leader
                 House of Representatives

                 The Honorable Dan Burton
                 Chairman, Committee on Government Reform
                 House of Representatives

                 The Honorable Fred Thompson
                 Chairman, Committee on Governmental Affairs
                 United States Senate

                 Subject: Observations on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Fiscal Year 2000
                 Performance Plan

                 As you requested, we have reviewed and evaluated the fiscal year 2000 performance plans for
                 the 24 Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act agencies that were submitted to Congress as
                 required by the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (Results Act). Enclosure I
                 to this letter provides our observations on the fiscal year 2000 performance plan for the
                 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Enclosure II lists the identified GAO
                 management challenges and the FEMA Inspector General’s areas of concern that the agency
                 faces and the applicable goals and measures in the fiscal year 2000 annual performance plan.

                 Our objectives were to (1) assess the usefulness of the agency’s plan for decisionmaking and
                 (2) identify the degree of improvement the agency’s fiscal year 2000 performance plan
                 represents over the fiscal year 1999 plan. Our observations were generally based on the
                 requirements of the Results Act, guidance to agencies from the Office of Management and
                 Budget (OMB) for developing the plan (OMB Circular A-11, Part 2), our previous reports and
                 knowledge of FEMA’s operations and programs, and our observations on FEMA’s fiscal year
                 1999 performance plan. Our summary report on the CFO Act agencies’ fiscal year 2000 plans
                                                                                             1
                 contains a complete discussion of our objectives, scope, and methodology.


                 1
                  Managing for Results: Opportunities for Continued Improvements in Agencies’ Performance Plans (GAO/GGD/AIMD-99-215,
                 July 20, 1999).




                 Page 1                                               GAO/RCED-99-226R FEMA’s Fiscal Year 2000 Performance Plan
B-282453


As agreed, unless you announce the contents of this letter earlier, we plan no further
distribution until 30 days from the date of the letter. The major contributors to this report are
listed in enclosure III. Please call me at (202) 512-7631 if you or your staff have any questions.




Judy A. England-Joseph
Director, Housing and Community
  Development

Enclosures - 3




Page 2                                      GAO/RCED-99-226R FEMA’s Fiscal Year 2000 Performance Plan
Enclosure I

Observations on the Federal
Emergency Management Agency's
Performance Plan for Fiscal Year
2000
FEMA’s fiscal year 2000 annual performance plan provides a general picture of intended
performance across the agency and a general discussion of strategies and resources the
agency will use to achieve its performance goals. However, the plan provides limited
confidence that the agency’s performance information will be credible and it does not identify
the external factors that could affect FEMA’s ability to achieve its performance goals and the
actions FEMA can take to mitigate these factors. For example, the plan reduces the number
of operational objectives and performance goals used in the plan, thus helping to focus
attention on FEMA’s more critical priorities. Figure 1 highlights the plan’s major strengths
and key weaknesses, recognizing that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is seeking
to make additional improvements to its plan.

Figure 1: Major Strengths and Key Weaknesses of FEMA’s Fiscal Year 2000 Annual
Performance Plan

Major Strengths
• Provides clear structure linking strategic goals, 5 year operational objectives, and annual
performance goals,
• Contains results-oriented annual performance goals and generally quantifiable performance
indicators,
• Discusses strategies for accomplishing annual performance goals.

Key Weaknesses
• Presents only a limited discussion of FEMA’s efforts and plans to coordinate with other
agencies whose programs and activities complement FEMA’s,
• Does not identify the external factors that could affect FEMA’s ability to achieve its
performance goals and the actions FEMA can take to mitigate these factors,
• Does not identify significant limitations potentially affecting the credibility of data used to
measure performance,
• Provides only a limited description of FEMA’s procedures for verifying and validating
performance data.

FEMA’s fiscal year 2000 performance plan recognizes some of the weaknesses that we
identified in our assessment of the fiscal year 1999 performance plan and makes specific
commitments to address some of those weaknesses. However, real progress is not yet evident
in addressing all of the prior weaknesses we noted. Therefore, the fiscal year 2000 plan
represents little improvement over the fiscal year 1999 plan. For example, in reviewing the
fiscal year 1999 plan, we observed that the plan did not

• identify the external factors that could affect FEMA’s ability to achieve its performance
  goals and the actions FEMA can take to mitigate these factors;




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Enclosure I
Observations on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Performance Plan for Fiscal Year 2000




• identify significant limitations potentially affecting the credibility of the data used to
  measure performance; or
• provide a full description of the procedures for verifying and validating performance data.

Only limited progress has been made in addressing these concerns in the fiscal year 2000
performance plan. However, among the improvements in the fiscal year 2000 plan are the use
of established baselines to measure the agency’s progress in meeting its performance goals.
For example, the plan includes the goal of operating a logistics program that provides timely
and cost-effective resources to support the agency’s all-hazards emergency management
mission. The performance indicators for this goal include references to 5-percent changes
from fiscal year 1999 baselines, including a 5-percent reduction in the percentage of assets
lost or damaged and a 5-percent reduction in the time between receiving and shipping orders
for supplies. Other improvements include a general listing of federal agencies with missions
and activities that complement FEMA’s, linkage between budget accounts and annual
performance goals, and a reduction in the number of operational objectives and annual
performance goals. Additionally, the plan now includes several new appendixes that (1) chart
FEMA’s fiscal year 1998’s actual performance, fiscal year 1999’s estimated performance, and
fiscal year 2000’s projected performance; (2) list 5-year operational objectives and
performance goals for FEMA’s staff offices; and (3) present a 5-year projection of FEMA’s
spending on capital assets. However, the plan still contains a number of weaknesses. For
example, it still contains over 150 performance indicators—presenting levels of performance
for so many indicators could make it difficult to assess FEMA’s performance. Additionally,
the plan does not recognize the limitations with the internal sources of data it intends to use
to assess performance, nor does it clearly describe credible and specific procedures that will
be used to verify and validate performance data.

The Agency’s Performance Plan Provides a General Picture of
Intended Performance Across the Agency
FEMA’s plan reflects the mission statement and strategic goals set forth in the agency’s
strategic plan, generally providing a clear link between FEMA’s 3 strategic goals, 19
operational objectives, and 31 annual performance goals. The annual performance goals are
generally objective and measurable; while some of the goals are not expressed in quantitative
terms, they include quantitative performance indicators. For example, one annual
performance goal addresses using information technology upgrades to reduce the costs of
disaster response and recovery. Though the goal is not expressed in quantitative terms, the
goal’s indicators include measures such as (1) disseminating emergency alerts within 3
minutes of their receipt and (2) the delivery of data and analyses to FEMA decisionmakers
and emergency partners within 72 hours of notification. Additionally, in its fiscal year 2000
performance plan, FEMA has reduced the number of 5-year operational objectives (from 38
objectives in its fiscal year 1999 plan to 19 objectives) and annual performance goals (from 60




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Enclosure I
Observations on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Performance Plan for Fiscal Year 2000




goals to 31 goals). This reduction in operational objectives and performance goals helps to
focus attention on FEMA’s more critical priorities.

Some aspects of the plan limit its ability to provide a complete picture of the agency’s
intended performance. For example, the plan still contains over 150 performance indicators
for measuring FEMA’s performance. Presenting levels of performance for such a large
number of indicators could make it difficult to assess FEMA’s performance. Additionally,
while FEMA’s plan recognizes that other agencies and stakeholders have missions and
activities that complement FEMA’s and acknowledges that FEMA must work closely with
these entities to achieve its goals, the plan does not specifically include complementary
performance goals that demonstrate how FEMA’s efforts contribute to crosscutting
programs.

The fiscal year 2000 performance plan indicates some degree of progress in addressing the
weaknesses that we identified in our assessment of the fiscal year 1999 performance plan in
terms of providing a clear picture of intended performance across the agency. In reviewing
the fiscal year 1999 plan, we observed a number of issues that could affect FEMA’s ability to
assess its performance. For example, the plan lacked quantified baseline levels of
performance. Among improvements in the fiscal year 2000 plan is the addition of a number of
quantified baseline levels of performance. For example, a 5-year operational objective in the
plan states that FEMA will provide disaster assistance services with an increase in timeliness
over fiscal year 1998 baselines. The objective includes a number of performance standards
such as processing applications for disaster housing assistance from eligible disaster victims
within 8 days of receiving them.

The Agency’s Performance Plan Provides a General Discussion
of the Strategies and Resources the Agency Will Use to Achieve
Its Goals
The plan includes a discussion of strategies for all of FEMA’s performance goals, and
generally, the strategies are clear and appear reasonable and logically related to the annual
performance goals. For example, the plan contains a performance goal directed at
significantly reducing repetitive losses to the National Flood Insurance Program. The
strategies that support this goal include (1) providing grants to state and local governments
through several of FEMA’s mitigation grant programs—programs designed to help prevent
structural losses—and (2) providing incentives to communities to reduce repetitive flood
losses. The plan allocates FEMA’s fiscal year 2000 funding request among the agency’s annual
performance goals, though it is not clear how FEMA has allocated the program activities
within its budget accounts to the goals. Instead, FEMA’s plan aggregates the program
activities within its accounts and allocates each account’s funding to performance goals,
making it difficult to determine how individual program activities are related to performance




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Enclosure I
Observations on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Performance Plan for Fiscal Year 2000




goals. The plan also includes elements that are designed to solve the 10 major management
challenges identified by the FEMA Inspector General. These challenges, including financial
and grants management, and information management systems, could affect the agency’s
performance.

The plan does not explain how FEMA’s performance will be positively or negatively affected
by factors external to the agency. These factors, such as the economy, the possibility of
additional catastrophic disasters, or support from other agencies, can greatly affect the
accomplishment of performance goals. For example, FEMA’s plan has a performance goal
that the agency will enter into formal agreements with at least 10 other federal departments
and agencies to better support disaster mitigation efforts. The difficulties inherent in working
with so many other federal partners are not acknowledged, although they could have a
significant effect on FEMA’s ability to meet this performance goal. Additionally, the plan does
not fully discuss how information technology will help FEMA achieve specific performance
goals, and it does not clearly identify specific human skills or technology resources—or refer
to separate documents that contain such a discussion—that FEMA will need in fiscal year
2000 to achieve the plan’s goals.

FEMA’s fiscal year 2000 performance plan addresses the weaknesses that we identified in our
assessment of the fiscal year 1999 performance plan by providing a complete discussion of
strategies and resources the agency will use to achieve performance goals and by making
specific commitments or actual attempts to address those weaknesses. However, some
weaknesses have not been fully addressed. Similar to what we noted in our review of the
fiscal year 1999 plan, the 2000 performance plan cites the application of information
technology as part of its strategies to achieve the annual performance goals. The plan also
contains a broader discussion of the application of information technology in a separate
appendix. However, with one exception, these discussions generally do not show how
information technology will be used to help achieve the performance goals or the strategic
objectives. The one exception—FEMA’s discussion of information technology upgrades to
provide emergency alerts and emergency response communications—does directly link an
information technology strategy to the achievement of an annual performance goal with
specific performance indicators. The performance goal specifically mentions the use of
information technology upgrades to improve disaster response and recovery services. The
plan also outlines the information technology skills required to meet its three strategic goals,
but does not identify any potential skills gap or strategy to close the gap.

FEMA’s fiscal year 1999 and 2000 performance plans discuss actions to resolve the agency’s
Year 2000 computer-date problems. These discussions provide users of the plan with an
understanding of FEMA’s goals and strategies for ensuring that critical business processes
and computer systems will function properly in the new millennium. As of March 31, 1999,
FEMA reported that all of its mission-critical systems are compliant with Year 2000
requirements.




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Enclosure I
Observations on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Performance Plan for Fiscal Year 2000




Among the improvements in the fiscal year 2000 plan are an allocation of FEMA’s fiscal year
                                 1
funding request and workyears down to the level of the plan’s annual performance goals (the
fiscal year 1999 plan only allocated the funding to the level of FEMA’s 5-year operational
objectives). For example, both plans contained a 5-year operational objective to reduce the
rate of loss of life and property from fire and fire-related hazards by 5 percent, and both plans
included three annual performance goals, which supported this objective. However, only the
fiscal year 2000 plan breaks out the workyears and funds allocated to each performance goal,
giving some idea of the priority attached to each goal. The plan also includes a new appendix
that charts the agency’s requested budget authority for its capital assets, though the plan does
not discuss how the capital acquisitions will affect the achievement of its performance goals.

The Agency’s Performance Plan Provides Limited Confidence
That Agency Performance Information Will Be Credible
While FEMA’s performance plan identifies the sources of information that the agency plans to
use in assessing progress toward its annual performance goals, it does not recognize the
limitations of the internal sources of the data it intends to use to assess performance, nor
does it clearly describe credible and specific procedures that will be used to verify and
validate performance data. The plan does identify changes to existing financial and
management information systems and briefly discusses some of the resulting implications for
assessing the achievement of performance goals.

The fiscal year 2000 performance plan recognizes the weaknesses that we identified in our
assessment of the fiscal year 1999 performance plan in terms of providing full confidence that
the agency’s performance information will be credible and making specific commitments to
address those weaknesses. However, real progress is not yet evident. In reviewing the fiscal
year 1999 plan, we observed that the plan did not always discuss methods for verifying and
validating performance data; instead, the “verification and validation” sections in the plan
appeared to be discussing the sources of the data. With limited exceptions, there was little
clear discussion of validation methods such as outside audits or independent verification of
the agency’s sampling or survey information. The annual audit of FEMA’s financial
statements provides a means for verifying performance indicator data, such as whether
FEMA achieved its fiscal year 1999 annual performance goal of “increasing the number of
flood insurance policies-in-force by 5 percent.” We also noted a few other indicators in
FEMA’s plan that are, or could easily be, verified through the annual financial statement
audit. However, FEMA does not refer to the financial statement audit as a source for data



1
    FEMA’s plan appears to use “workyears” as a quantitative measure of human resource needs.




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Enclosure I
Observations on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Performance Plan for Fiscal Year 2000




                                      2
verification and validation. Similarly, FEMA’s fiscal year 2000 performance plan does not
provide specific information on the data validation processes and management controls that
will be used to ensure that performance data will be valid and reliable.

Additionally, the fiscal year 1999 plan acknowledged that FEMA did not have information
systems in place to capture performance data for many of its 5-year operational objectives
and annual performance goals. FEMA’s fiscal year 2000 plan notes that the Inspector General
cited the need for the agency to develop or modify information systems to capture
performance data. FEMA states that it is establishing such systems. FEMA’s fiscal year 2000
performance plan does not discuss whether there are any limitations on the use of its
performance measurement data, although the agency plans to develop data sources and
develop and modify information systems to collect data from internal and external resources.
Users of the plan would benefit from a clear discussion of whether significant data limitations
exist and how they will affect the accuracy, completeness, and availability of performance
measurement data.

Other Observations on FEMA’s Implementation of Performance-
Based Management
One challenge FEMA faces in implementing performance-based management is how to
balance the performance goals that guide the agency’s activities—performance goals that
sometimes have competing interests. For example, in October 1997, we reported on the
conflict between FEMA’s need to provide expeditious assistance to disaster victims—
assisting the largest number of disaster victims in the shortest amount of time—and its
                                                                          3
responsibility to effectively control the disbursement of federal funds. Providing temporary
housing assistance quickly to disaster victims (without first verifying each applicant’s
                                                                       4
eligibility for the assistance through individual property inspections ) could mean that FEMA
would need to subsequently go back and recover payments to ineligible recipients. To assess
its performance in the temporary housing program, FEMA could use a performance goal
targeted at reducing the time it takes to get assistance to disaster victims and use a



2
 FEMA received an unqualified opinion on its fiscal year 1998 financial statements. However, the independent auditor’s report
cited a material weakness relating to FEMA’s financial statement preparation process. Specifically, the processes and
infrastructure that support the preparation of the agency’s consolidated financial statements are neither stable nor subject to the
necessary levels of supervision and review.
3
    Disaster Assistance: Guidance Needed for FEMA’s “Fast Track” Housing Assistance Process (GAO/RCED-98-1, Oct. 17, 1997).
4
 In the case of the Northridge earthquake in California, FEMA established applicants’ eligibility through factors such as the
general location of their residences, generally observed damages, and the residents’ statements that their homes were damaged
or destroyed.




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Enclosure I
Observations on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Performance Plan for Fiscal Year 2000




performance goal calling for the amount of funding disbursed to ineligible recipients to be
minimized.

Agency Comments
We provided FEMA with a copy of our draft observations for review and comment. In its
written comments, FEMA generally agreed with our observations, noting that the agency
would revise several aspects of its performance plan with more explicit information and
additional detail. However, FEMA questioned our observation about the need to develop
complementary goals, pointing out that its review of other agencies’ performance goals in
relation to its own goals found that the goals were “mutually exclusive [falling] along [the
agency’s] distinct and separate mission lines” and that developing complementary goals
would be a “separate and distinct requirement/task.” We continue to believe that setting
complementary performance goals can help to (1) show how differing program strategies are
mutually reinforcing, (2) establish common or complementary performance measures, and
(3) clarify the specific contribution an agency makes to a common result. In addition, FEMA
clarified and updated certain information, which we incorporated in our observations where
appropriate.

Also, FEMA commented that it included information on external factors that could affect its
ability to achieve its performance goals in both its September 30, 1997, strategic plan and
within certain performance goals in the performance plan. While FEMA does include a
general discussion of external factors in its strategic plan and a few references to the external
factors in the performance plan, we believe FEMA should also include additional references
to how specific external factors could have an impact on individual performance goals and
the actions FEMA can take to mitigate these factors. Also, FEMA noted that its performance
plan does include a general discussion of information technology and references to the
technology. However, the plan does not explain how the information technologies will be
used to help FEMA achieve individual performance goals. Such an explanation would
strengthen and provide users with a better understanding of the agency’s plan.




Page 9                                          GAO/RCED-99-226R FEMA’s Fiscal Year 2000 Performance Plan
Enclosure II

Management Challenges


To provide the best level of service to the public, FEMA needs to respond to a number of
management challenges identified by GAO and the agency’s Inspector General (IG). Table
II.1 presents the management challenges and the applicable goals and measures in FEMA’s
fiscal year 2000 annual performance plan that the agency will use to address the management
challenges.

Table II.1: Management Challenges
GAO identified management challenge                        Applicable references in FEMA’s fiscal year 2000
                                                           annual performance plan
Year 2000 problem                                          The plan includes a performance indicator that
                                                           makes reference to correcting Year 2000 software
 (A January 1999 FEMA Inspector General report also        and hardware problems within the agency’s
identified this area as a concern. However, as of March    computer networks.
31, 1999, FEMA reported that all of its mission-critical
systems are compliant with Year 2000 requirements.)
FEMA needs to establish that information security          None. Under an annual performance goal that
issues have been addressed within the agency.              addresses upgrading infrastructure, FEMA does
                                                           identify an effort to operate a certified firewall to
                                                           protect the agency’s computer assets and privileged
                                                           information from unauthorized intrusion.




Inspector General’s areas of concern                       Applicable references in FEMA’s fiscal year 2000
                                                           annual performance plan
Federal disaster assistance costs have grown over the      All three of FEMA’s strategic goals have
past decade. FEMA needs to find ways to reduce these       performance goals that address disaster assistance
costs.                                                     costs. For example, FEMA’s third strategic goal
                                                           includes a performance goal directed at improving
                                                           the efficiency of operations and service, while
                                                           strategic goal 1 includes a number of performance
                                                           goals that are directed at mitigating future damages,
                                                           thus reducing costs.
Clear, documented criteria for presidentially declared     None.
disasters are lacking. (In January 1999, FEMA issued a
proposed rule concerning factors considered when
evaluating requests for major disaster declarations.)
The emergency management culture needs to change           Strategic goal 1 includes a number of performance
from one that reactively responds to disasters to one      goals that are directed at building up FEMA’s, other
that proactively assists communities in avoiding future    agencies’, states’, and communities’ mitigation
damages and loss of life by emphasizing mitigation         efforts. For example, one goal calls for entering into
efforts.                                                   formal agreements with at least 10 other federal
                                                           agencies on how their programs, resources, and
                                                           capabilities can be leveraged to support mitigation
                                                           goals. Other goals include supporting states and
                                                           communities in their mitigation activities and
                                                           increasing by at least 50 the number of disaster-
                                                           resistant communities.
FEMA needs to ensure the financial soundness of the        FEMA has established a 5-year operational
National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which             objective to complete revisions to the NFIP to



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Enclosure II
Management Challenges




Inspector General’s areas of concern                          Applicable references in FEMA’s fiscal year 2000
                                                              annual performance plan
continues to carry debt.                                      enhance its financial soundness and equity. Other
                                                              objectives include an initiative targeted at reducing
                                                              repetitive flood losses in floodplains.
FEMA’s ability to measure state grant performance and         FEMA’s plan includes several performance goals
capability is limited. This ability is important because it   that will attempt to build the states’ capability. One
could influence grant funding decisions.                      goal identifies using national baseline data from the
                                                              capability assessment for readiness report to
                                                              determine the level of emergency capability of states
                                                              and localities and their progress in addressing
                                                              weaknesses. Another goal calls for evaluating the
                                                              effectiveness of mitigation planning to better target
                                                              technical assistance and develop incentives to
                                                              reward successful state and local risk management
                                                              practices and encourage higher levels of
                                                              performance.
FEMA reports that the majority of the agency’s flood          The plan contains annual performance goals to
hazard maps depicting 100- and 500-year floodplains           implement standards and procedures to modernize
are no longer accurate. These maps are important              the floodplain-mapping program and to develop
because they influence flood insurance needs and              tools to help states achieve hazard-mitigation
whether flood mitigation measures are used in                 standards and performance measures such as
communities.                                                  adopting flood mitigation measures.
FEMA needs to improve financial management,                   FEMA’s plan attempts to achieve the objectives of
accounting, controls, and reporting systems to fully          the agency’s 5-year financial management plan
support management decision-making.                           through one of its annual performance goals.
FEMA needs to implement and maintain information              The plan contains several annual performance
management systems that improve FEMA’s ability to             goals, including goals to direct the remaining
manage its programs and operations.                           National Emergency Management Information
                                                              System (NEMIS) development activities and analyze
                                                              and disseminate data and information to promote
                                                              professional decision-making by fire and emergency
                                                              managers and first responders. Another goal is to
                                                              operate a logistics program that provides timely and
                                                              cost-effective resources to support the all-hazards
                                                              mission of FEMA.
FEMA needs to ensure that grantees use grant funds            FEMA’s plan contains an annual performance goal
effectively, efficiently, and economically.                   to achieve the objectives set out in a 5-year plan
                                                              that resulted from a grants management
                                                              improvement study conducted by FEMA’s chief
                                                              financial officer in fiscal year 1997. Performance
                                                              measurement indicators include implementing
                                                              recommendations of the grants management
                                                              improvement initiative within agreed-upon
                                                              timeframes. The plan also contains performance
                                                              goals to enhance community recovery over fiscal
                                                              year 1998 baselines and to improve by 2 percent the
                                                              efficiency with which FEMA delivers selected
                                                              services.
FEMA needs to develop or modify evaluation systems to         None. However, under the plan’s strategic goal 3,
capture necessary performance data.                           the program delivery objective provides some
                                                              support for measuring progress toward goals and
                                                              objectives. For example, performance
                                                              measurement indicators include NFIP analyses,




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Enclosure II
Management Challenges




Inspector General’s areas of concern           Applicable references in FEMA’s fiscal year 2000
                                               annual performance plan
                                               findings, and research studies and implementation
                                               of an agency evaluation system and activity-based
                                               costing methodology for one mission activity.




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Enclosure III

GAO Contacts and Staff
Acknowledgments

GAO Contact
Judy England-Joseph,   (202) 512-7631

Acknowledgements
In addition to the contact named above, Pat Moore, R. Tim Baden, Thom Barger, Dave Gill,
and Shirley Abel made key contributions to this product.




(385790)




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