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October 20, 2022

Chairman Thompson Releases Statement on Government Watchdog Report on FEMA Workforce Discrimination and Harassment

(WASHINGTON) – Today, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, released a report he requested from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) detailing employee discrimination and harassment issues within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Chairman Thompson asked GAO to review FEMA’s efforts to improve workplace culture after the RAND Corporation released a study in 2020 which revealed that an estimated 29 percent of FEMA employees experienced discrimination or harassment related to sex or race/ethnicity. Earlier this year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that FEMA did not meet 13 requirements in its equal employment opportunity program.

In its report, FEMA Workforce: Additional Actions Needed to Help Prevent and Respond to Discrimination and Harassment (GAO-23-105243), GAO found that while FEMA continues to take actions to address workplace discrimination and harassment, “it has not taken steps that would enable it to determine the effectiveness of its efforts.”  GAO made 4 recommendations to DHS and 9 to FEMA.

GAO also found:

  • While DHS established an anti-harassment policy and training for FEMA, these do not fully meet recommended EEOC practices, such as ensuring FEMA will complete a prompt, impartial, and thorough investigation.
  • FEMA’s harassment complaint system does not ensure the Agency consistently notifies employees who allege harassment whether it is taking corrective action.
  • FEMA has not designated an individual or entity responsible for oversight of these improvement efforts, nor has it established goals and metrics for these efforts.

“With the increase in disasters due to climate change and FEMA’s role in the Federal response to COVID-19, the burden placed on the FEMA workforce in recent years has been extraordinary. Our oversight has shown that FEMA continues to face numerous workforce shortfalls – including hiring, training, and retention challenges – in the face of growing responsibilities and unprecedented disasters.

“That is why it is critical for FEMA’s workforce to be supported and its employees to be able to do their job free of any discrimination or harassment. The GAO report released today shows that DHS must update its antiharassment policy and training – and we must be sure that FEMA is adhering to it. FEMA needs proper oversight of its antiharassment policy, with proper goals and metrics.

“I commend the Administration for their awareness of these problems and the steps they have already taken to address them. I look forward to working with the Department to ensure it implements GAO’s 13 recommendations.”

The GAO report follows extensive oversight of the FEMA workforce by the Committee on Homeland Security, which has held two Congressional hearings this year on FEMA workforce issues, including discrimination and harassment, under the leadership of Subcommittee Chairs Val Demings (D-FL) and Lou Correa (D-CA).

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