New Law Seeks To Improve The Crisis Planning And Recovery Efforts Of Federal Agencies

Federal agencies such as FEMA and the Small Business Administration are often among the first to help companies and organizations recover from natural disasters, hurricanes and other weather-related crises.

But a new law signed by President Joe Biden on Decembe 5 seeks to ensure that all government agencies take the right steps so they are fully prepared to bounce back from similar crisis situations that impact federal property such hospitals, other government infrastructure, and public land.

The clock is ticking. The Disaster Resiliency Planning Act requires the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to establish guidelines within 180 days. The guidelines will requires the head of each federal agency to incorporate natural disaster resilience into real property asset management and investment decisions that are made by those agencies.

Timely Reminder

The measure is a timely reminder for business leaders about the importance of having an updated crisis management plan in place and having immediate access to all the resources they need to manage any type of crisis.

Just as in the private sector, however, setting goals to improve crisis management planning and response on the federal level will be easier than achieving them.

Protecting Federal Infrastructure

“Worsening natural disasters continue to cause physical and financial damage to property in Michigan and across the nation,” U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), one of the bill’s authors, said. “This new law will ensure that the federal government—our nation’s largest property owner—is planning for the impacts of floods, wildfires, and storms when managing public buildings. This will save taxpayer dollars and ensure that federal infrastructure is resilient to natural disasters that are only worsening due to climate change,’ Homeland Preapredness News reported.

“In Florida, we know how valuable pre-disaster mitigation is, and that preparedness saves lives,” U.S. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who co-authered the bill, said. “With this good bill now law, federal assets like hospitals and critical infrastructure will be safer when disaster inevitably strikes. We are resilient because we prepare, and I am proud to see our bipartisan and commonsense approach to disaster mitigation efforts signed into law.”

Lacking Resilience Provisions

The legislation was in response to a 2021 report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) which found that the federal government there were no specific directives for incorporating natural disaster resilience into their asset management decisions, according to a report prepared by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.

The GAO report noted that the Administration issued guidance asking agencies to develop a climate action plan detailing relevant threats. However, government-wide directives have failed to go the extra step of requiring agencies to use the information collected to guide investment decisions,” the committee pointed out.

Federal Assets At Risk

“Natural disasters, such as hurricanes and wildfires, can expose federal real property assets to substantial and costly damage. Over the past five years, the government spent billions of dollars to repair federal property damage resulting from natural disasters,” according to the Senate report.

“Moreover, 2020 set a record number of 22 natural disaster events in the U.S. costing more than $1 billion in damages, surpassing the previous record of 16 such events that occurred in 2011 and 2017,” the report noted.

“As extreme weather and climate-related events become more frequent and severe, and costs continue to mount, it has become increasingly clear that federal agencies should enhance the resilience of their real property to natural disasters through use of appropriate asset management principles.”

Support Needed To Ensure Success

“The bipartisan support seen in the passage of the bill will hopefully translate into long-term support from the legislative branch of the federal government for ongoing resiliency initiatives. This support needs to translate in both needed enabling legislation and funding support,” Clifford Oliver, a retired former FEMA senior official and now the principal at Nanticoke Global Strategies, said via email.

“Over the past two years, under the Biden administration, federal agencies have hired and brought on consultants with expertise in organizational resilience. Improved resiliency planning has been underway in some agencies, and some are ready to move forward with funding. Other agencies will need to staff up and secure additional funding and enabling legislation,” he noted.


But as important as the law’s goals are, there are several obstacles to achieving success. Federal agencies face strong headwinds in becoming more resilient, according to Oliver.

Federal Budget Cycle

“Federal agencies are subject to unpredictable annual budget cycles that make multi-year strategies to improve resilience difficult to implement. The now, almost annual, lack of a timely budget that leads to a series of incremental funding continuing resolutions also wreaks havoc on large-scale project planning and execution,” he noted.

Change In Political Parties

“Democrats and Republicans have significantly different views of the appropriate size and role of government. The changing of parties in charge of the executive and legislative branches of the federal government often requires federal agencies to ‘retool’ongoing programs, such as resiliency efforts, to [align] with the party in charge’s political views,” Oliver said,

No Competition

“Unlike the private sector, federal agencies have no competition. There is no existential threat to their existence if they don’t invest in becoming more resilient. This creates a disincentive to undertake investments with their limited resources to become more resilient,” he observed.

Lack Of Agility

“Federal agencies are highly rules-driven organizations. Changes in the Code of Federal Regulations can take years and are subject to changes in the political agenda of the party in power. This inability to quickly pivot to address changing conditions, such as global warming, climate change, crises and emergency situations and evolving homeland security (domestic terrorism threats) leaves federal agencies exposed to heightened risks,” Oliver concluded.