Limiting Federal Exposure to Severe Weather A Growing Challenge, U.S. Senate Subcommittee Told

May 20, 2014


Limiting federal fiscal exposure to severe weather events has become a growing challenge, inasmuch as responsibility for actions that enhance disaster resilience rests largely outside the federal government, U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) Homeland Security and Justice Acting Director Chris Currie said in his testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Emergency Management, Intergovernmental Relations, and the District of Columbia on May 14, 2014.

The hearing examined the potential relationship between investment in mitigation and disaster response and recovery expenditures.  It also provided a discussion forum on the potential impact of mitigation investments in the sustainability and success of the National Flood Insurance Program (“NFIP”), and highlighted innovative examples of mitigation incentives (including public-private partnerships) across the country.  Suggestions were given on how to overcome barriers that may prevent or deter mitigation from being utilized across the federal government. 

An increase in the number of disaster declarations by non-federal entities, the effects of climate change and insufficient NFIP premiums have all contributed to the increasing taxpayer cost for federal catastrophe response, it was explained.  Building disaster resilience to protect against future damage is one strategy to help limit that exposure.

Based on more than 30 years of studying federal efforts, the GAO defines disaster resilience as ” . . . actions to help prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adapt to adverse events including those caused by extreme weather.”

In its overview of Mr. Currie’s remarks (GAO-14-603T) the GAO said that it has seen an intensified federal focus on incorporating resilience-building into recovery programs, describing the challenges to do so as ” . . . longstanding policy issues, without easy solutions.”

Mr. Currie’s testimony discusses (1) resilience-building challenges that the GAO has previously identified; (2) federal efforts to facilitate resilience-building as part of Hurricane Sandy recovery; and (3) examples of nonfederal efforts to incentivize resilience-building.  His information is based on previous GAO reports issued from 1998 through 2014 related to hazard mitigation, climate change, flood insurance and preliminary observations from the GAO’s ongoing work on federal resilience efforts related to the Sandy recovery.

To access the GAO report, click here.  To view video and access testimony of other witnesses at the May 14 hearing, click here.


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