Agency finds FEMA staff levels, training lagging: report

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) lags behind its goals for hiring staff to disaster management positions, Politico reported Wednesday.

The agency's total staffing levels remain below its target for the 2018 fiscal year, according to Politico. The agency currently employs 12,592 staffers, just shy of its target of 13,004, the outlet reported.

Based on a FEMA review of the agency's staff, only 62 percent of FEMA's workforce were "qualified," or had completed internal agency training procedures for their current or most recent positions, Politico reported.

A FEMA spokesperson told The Hill that the designation of "qualified" refers to whether a staffer has completed FEMA training for their most current position within the agency, adding that many FEMA staffers cross-train for multiple positions.

"We are absolutely not sending unqualified people to disaster areas," FEMA spokesman Daniel Llargués told The Hill on Wednesday.

The amount of internally "qualified" individuals is reportedly up 6 percent from before last year's hurricane season, but lags behind its target of 88 percent for the 2018 fiscal year. 

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The findings come months after a similar analysis in July found that just 56 percent of agency staffers were deemed to have completed relevant training for their positions before the devastating 2017 hurricane season, after which the agency set a goal for 88 percent of staff to be qualified by the end the 2018 fiscal year, which ended in September.

An official told Politico that the agency's hiring efforts have been hampered by continuous disaster relief efforts.

“FEMA has continued to make great strides in achieving staffing and training goals despite increased disaster activity,” the spokesman said, according to Politico, while noting that ongoing operations “continue to impact the pace of training completions and of hiring.”

“If we were to experience another set of catastrophic disasters in a sequential nature, it will still be a big challenge," the official added.

The agency acknowledged earlier this year that it could have been better prepared for Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico and contributed to hundreds of deaths.

"FEMA leadership acknowledged that the Agency could have better anticipated that the severity of hurricanes Irma and Maria would cause long-term, significant damage to the territories’ infrastructure," a FEMA report read in July.

This article was updated at 5:04 p.m.