Biden Orders Simplification of Disaster Relief

On December 13 – 1567 days after Hurricane Harvey – President Biden issued an executive order to improve disaster relief by the federal government. The order covers a range of other government services, too. It aims to improve service service to citizens with the ultimate goals of improving customer satisfaction and restoring trust in government.

The White House says 25 million individuals, families, and small businesses live through a Federally recognized natural disaster each year. This should be great news for all of them. In the last four years, I have posted about the disaster called disaster relief more than once.

FEMA Mandate: Streamline Applications and Rules Re: Documentation

Specifically, the order states that theDepartment of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) shall “design and deliver a streamlined, online disaster assistance application. It also requires FEMA to “work with States to proactively update existing rules and policies on supporting documentation needed for disaster assistance processes to reduce burden and increase accessibility.”

Forest Cove Townhome destroyed by Harvey. What happens when 240,000 cubic feet per second roar through your home. When residents evacuated, survival was uppermost on their minds, not finding documents they might need for disaster-relief applications. FEMA chose this location to film a video about the destructiveness of Harvey.

HUD Required to Inventory Ways to Improve Customer Service

Unfortunately, the Order only mentions Housing and Urban Development (HUD) once and doesn’t offer many specifics. It requires HUD to submit a report to the Office of Management and Budget that assesses improvements needed in the department’s customer experience management and service design capabilities to comply with the order. The report must also prioritize improvements within available and budgeted resources.

Types of improvements mentioned throughout the order include:

  • Streamlining and improving accessibility
  • Improving digital experiences
  • Eliminating unnecessary administrative burdens on customers
  • Ensuring accessibility for those with disabilities
  • Ensuring access for those with limited English proficiency
  • Coordinating between agencies to reduce the need for customers to interact separately with multiple agencies.
  • Callback systems for those on hold
  • Enrollment assistance for benefits, etc.
  • Improving compliance with the Plain Writing Act.

Goal: Help People Focus on Recovery

This fact sheet prepared by the White House staff elaborates on disasters.

“After a disaster,” it says, “more survivors will be able to focus on helping their families, businesses, and communities because of streamlined assistance processes, rather than having to navigate a complex Government bureaucracy to get the help they need.”

“Disaster survivors will no longer need to navigate multiple assistance forms across multiple agencies to get the help they need, saving time and energy to allow them to focus on their recovery and well-being.”

“Survivors will have access to more flexible mechanisms to provide supporting documentation, such as virtual inspections and submitting photos of disaster damage from a mobile phone.”

The press release concludes: “The Government’s primary mission is to serve. By placing people at the center of everything we do, the Government will be able to deliver timely, modern, and secure services to you – the people. We will rebuild trust in our Government, ensure no one is left behind, and inspire others to join us in serving future generations of Americans.”

President Clinton had similar ambitions in the early days of the digital revolution. His plan helped transform government, but there’s still a long way to go. This sounds like a good deal if it works. But it will be a massive undertaking that takes place in stages over years, not overnight.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/16/2021

1570 Days since Hurricane Harvey