Cammack Opening Statement in FEMA Hearing
WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL), Ranking Member of the Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Subcommittee, delivered the following opening statement in a subcommittee hearing entitled, “FEMA: Building a Workforce Prepared and Ready to Respond Part 2.”
Ranking Member Cammack’s Opening Statement (as prepared for delivery)
Thank you, Chairwoman Demings for holding this important hearing today.
Before I begin, I do want to take a moment to recognize all the hardworking men and women at FEMA. We truly cannot thank you enough for the extraordinary work that you do, each and every day.
A little over a month ago, this Subcommittee held a hearing to discuss the challenges facing the FEMA workforce. During that hearing we heard testimony from representatives from GAO and RAND, and from former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.
During the course of the hearing, much of our discussion centered around how FEMA’s mission sets have grown in recent years. FEMA has led the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, assisted in the Afghan refugee resettlement efforts, and provided operational support to the Department of Health and Human Services with unaccompanied children crossing the border.
FEMA has been called upon to handle these new challenges, all while facing an unprecedented number of natural disasters.
That hearing, unfortunately, did little to alleviate my concern that, while FEMA employees are incredibly capable and resilient, these multiple mission sets, and the abundance of natural disasters are exhausting the workforce.
I do recognize that employee burnout is an issue that FEMA Administrator Criswell has been working to address, so it is my hope that during this hearing today we will learn about some of the proactive steps the Agency is taking to remedy this problem.
In addition to discussing these multiple mission sets, we also heard from RAND about a survey they conducted on harassment and discrimination in the FEMA workplace. The survey found that of the personnel that completed the survey, about 29% of employees experienced sex, race, or ethnicity-based discrimination.
The survey also found that women were more likely to experience a civil rights violation and that rates of civil rights violations varied significantly across the different FEMA offices.
As a result of this survey, FEMA published a Culture Improvement Action Plan, which was designed to increase employee awareness of the RAND survey results and provide transparent communication of workforce culture objectives.
FEMA also made anti-sexual harassment training mandatory across the Agency.
I applaud the steps that FEMA has already taken to address this serious issue and I look forward to hearing more from Deputy Administrator Hooks today about how the culture at the Agency has improved.
It is also my understanding that RAND has conducted a second survey, and I look forward to reviewing those results when they are published.
We also heard testimony from GAO, who have conducted a number of reports over the years examining the FEMA workforce. The GAO reports focused on a number of specific concerns including staffing shortages and FEMA’s challenges in deploying staff with the right qualifications and skills at the right times to meet disaster needs.
Both GAO and former FEMA Administrator Fugate’s testimony also highlighted the difficulties that FEMA has had in growing and developing their reservist workforce. Ensuring a well-trained reservist workforce is essential, given that they often comprise the greatest proportion of FEMA staff in the field during a disaster.
Before I yield back, Mr. Currie from GAO brought up one point during that hearing that has really stuck with me. He highlighted that FEMA is currently managing almost 1,000 prior disasters, that are still in some stage of recovery. This means that FEMA is still dealing with disasters from 5, 10, or even 15 years ago.
As we look at ways to strengthen and improve the FEMA workforce, I believe it is critical that we also look at ways to update some of FEMA’s policies and procedures to help address existing backlog. Addressing this backlog, and the reasons behind it, will help communities recover faster and also will help alleviate some of the pressure on the FEMA workforce.
Because as the past few years have shown, there is no longer a down season for disasters.
I look forward to hearing from Deputy Administrator Hooks today regarding the challenges facing FEMA, and about the steps that the Agency is taking to move forward positively.
With that, thank you Chairwoman Demings, and I yield back.