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FEMA’s Fraud Controls Improved, but Customer Service too Slow

June 22, 2009 (WASHINGTON) – The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report requested by Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, on hurricane disaster assistance. The report, entitled "Hurricanes Gustav and Ike Disaster Assistance: FEMA Strengthened Its Fraud Prevention Controls, but Customer Service Needs Improvement", found that FEMA has instituted several safeguards in its disaster assistance program, but some vulnerabilities still exist and fraud is still possible. Similarly, it also found customer service issues impeded hurricane victims from getting assistance.

Chairman Thompson released the following statement with the release of the report:

“In its recent report examining FEMA’s response to Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, GAO found that FEMA has made significant improvements implementing controls to prevent fraud in the disaster assistance application process. This development is welcome news to all those who are concerned about preventing the kind of fraud and criminal conduct that often follows a disaster. However, GAO also found that FEMA had yet to resolve significant problems in helping disaster victims obtain necessary assistance. One GAO investigator spent 3 days and nine call attempts before speaking with a FEMA operator. Three days is simply too long for a disaster victim to request disaster assistance. FEMA has promised to assess these findings and implement improvements. While this is encouraging, FEMA cannot continue to wait for external oversight to point out problems that hamper service delivery. It must take a more proactive approach and find a middle ground that prevents fraud while delivering needed services.

Before the first hurricane of 2009 strikes, FEMA must come to grips with its customer service deficiencies and take the necessary steps to assure that 3 day waits are not the norm. FEMA must build their call center capacity. In the meantime, I have asked GAO to conduct a follow-up review on FEMA’s call center operations.”

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Please contact Dena Graziano or Adam Comis at (202) 225-9978

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS)

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson

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