"[T]his report addresses (1) the accuracy and timeliness of FEMA's estimates of remaining costs for past disasters, (2) the reasonableness of FEMA's approach to estimating the timing and cost of future disasters, and (3) the impact of FEMA's initiatives on the rate of obligating disaster relief funds. We found problems with both the accuracy and timeliness of the information FEMA provides monthly to the Congress on estimated remaining costs for past disasters. FEMA's headquarters staff relies on data provided by its regional offices to produce a monthly report to the Congress on funding requirements for past disasters. However, as of the end of August 1999, for a third of all past disasters, we found that staff from headquarters and regional offices disagreed on the amount of funds obligated to date. Collectively, differences in reported obligations between headquarters and regional staff totaled nearly $250 million--with headquarters reporting obligation amounts that were $18 million higher than the regions reported obligations. Obligation amounts reported by regional staff were both higher and lower than amounts reported by headquarters staff, and FEMA officials could not tell us which amounts were correct. When regional offices questioned the accuracy of the data, FEMA headquarters staff responsible for reconciling discrepancies initially failed to determine the cause and make the needed corrections. Instead, FEMA used the inaccurate data to report on remaining costs for past disasters. In addition, because of the time needed to assemble and analyze the data, the information on remaining costs in the monthly report is based on obligation data that are 4 to 6 weeks old. FEMA officials acknowledge that data problems exist and have taken steps to correct them. For example, FEMA is developing a new automated system to estimate remaining disaster costs on a real-time basis. The new system is projected to be operational in August 2000."
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