Four agencies providing disaster relief following the triple hurricanes and California wildfires of 2017 failed to keep proper records of contracts with suppliers, rendering it impractical for the Government Accountability Office to fully track $5 billion in spending.
GAO’s report released on Wednesday examined 23 sample contracts let after the disasters by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard and the Defense Logistics Agency. Its conclusion: the full extent of contracting related to the 2017 disasters is unknown due to Homeland Security Department’s irregular schedule for closing contracts and inconsistent use of standard contracting codes.
Disaster relief contracts for everything from ready-made meals to tarpaulins can be awarded prospectively—before anyone knows the date of a coming act of God—or after the storm or fire has rendered thousands homeless or living in damaged property.
But among the contracts studied as of June 30, 2018—following a record-setting displacement of 15 percent of the U.S. population from several natural events—GAO reviewed the three-fourths of the obligations that were let by FEMA and the Army engineers and found that the Homeland Security Department violated procedure with early closures of what are called national interest action codes. Those numbered codes, administered by the General Services Administration, allow agencies to track data on contract actions related to national emergencies, and are available on the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation to provide governmentwide insight into response and recovery efforts.