Auditors declare FEMA acquisition files a disaster

Contracting documents at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s headquarters office are such a mess that the agency was unable to find two-thirds of the files requested during a recent audit.

Contracting officers at FEMA’s Washington office could not locate 16 of the 24 files the accounting firm Urbach Kahn and Werlin requested, according to the audit released March 13 by the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general.

And the files FEMA did find were not in good shape, the auditors said.

“The eight contract files were not consistent in content or structure,” the auditors wrote. “Contracting officers included an acquisition file checklist in only two files. Documentation was missing from most of the headquarters contract files.”

FEMA’s regional and field offices performed better, with only 16 out of 96 files missing, the report states. Overall, 32 of the 120 contracting files requested were not accounted for.

The problems stem from lax internal controls, concluded the auditors, who were commissioned to evaluate the agency’s progress in improving internal controls over disaster contracting since the Gulf Coast hurricanes in 2005.

FEMA’s Office of Acquisition Management “does not routinely monitor contracting officers’ compliance with contract file policies and procedures, organization and maintenance regulations, and contract closeout requirements,” the report states. Furthermore, auditors wrote that supervisors did not hold contracting officers accountable for maintaining complete, organized files, and the Office of Acquisition Management did not monitor file contents to ensure that they were complete and organized.

Missing files are only one problem with FEMA’s acquisition system, the auditors concluded. In fiscal 2007, the agency could not provide reasonable assurance of the effectiveness of its internal controls, and it has not yet taken a number of key corrective actions or established formal processes to provide oversight of improvements to internal controls.

FEMA officials said they are preparing a plan for taking corrective action in accordance with the auditors’ recommendations.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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