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MEMA responds to recommended funding hal from OIG

Photo courtesy of MEMA

JACKSON, Miss.- Director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, Lee Smithson has released a letter in response to the recent negativity surrounding the Office of Inspector General’s recommendations to audit several of the organizations projects. 

Letter from Lee Smithson: 

Op-Ed from MEMA Director Lee Smithson

 The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) has come under fire recently for its oversight of federal recovery grants by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) within the Office of Homeland Security.

 I would like to point out a few things in defense of the Agency.

 The OIG has simply made recommendations to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regarding the audits of several projects, including Coastal Retrofit Mississippi and the rebuilding of Hope Academy in Harrison County. It is important to note that while FEMA concurred with several of the recommendations, it has not de-obligated any of the recovery funds at this point.

 The internal audit of the Coastal Retrofit program is ongoing and FEMA has stated it will provide resolution to the two remaining recommendations regarding Hope Academy by January 31, 2017.

 The scrutiny MEMA is undergoing were from events that transpired before I took over as Executive Director on February 1, 2016.  Since that time I have worked diligently to overhaul the oversight and efficiency of the Agency with regards to both federal and state funds.

 This commitment has resulted in several personnel and policy changes.  No longer are the six offices in the Agency operating independently of one another, we are now one MEMA.  We have instituted checks and balances across MEMA to provide better transparency of all projects and initiatives we manage.

 Our Office of Support Services is now fully engaged in the tracking and allocation of every penny that moves through MEMA.  It is my directive to make this Agency as efficient and productive as possible.  We are doing this in a number of ways:

Leveraging technology:

o   We are instituting the use of virtual training. Our Training Bureau teaches more than 100 classes per year to more than 2,000 students. By teaching virtually, we not only save travel costs, but we utilize our trainers’ workday more effectively.

o   Creation of the Virtual Common Operating Picture and Virtual Situation Rooms. Emergency managers, first responders and local officials can now view all state operations and incidents from their computers without having to travel to the State Emergency Operations Center for situation awareness.

 Ensuring effective preparedness, response and recovery for all Mississippians:

o   We are one of only three states to now have a full-time Disabilities Integration Advisor. Christy Dunaway works with both state and local agencies to ensure emergency planning, public messaging, shelters, training and recovery centers take into account the needs of all Mississippians, including those with functional and medical needs.

o   Our website, offers four language translations, all news conferences include a sign language interpreter, and all videos we create are available with closed captioning.

 Supplementing MEMA staff with Disaster Reservists:

o   We now have over 300 disaster reservists registered to assist us when disaster strikes.

o   These very well trained and experienced professionals can be called up, when necessary, to provide critical support to every aspect of response and recovery.

o   Disaster Reservists will not take the place of the 155 full-time MEMA staffers but be a supplement to make sure nothing, or no one, falls through the cracks in a disaster.

Fiscal efficiency:

o   Our Office of Support Services has already found ways to save more than $150,000 in the next fiscal year by cutting the use of unused equipment and consolidating contractual services to the Agency.  We will gain efficiencies without sacrificing our mission to the people of Mississippi.

o   We are cross-training staff in every office to increase our capability and provide redundancy throughout the organization to ensure continuous support to our citizens for preparing for, responding to and recovering from any disaster. 

o   We have a commitment to finding additional resource funding through both public and private sector grants.  We now have a full-time grant writer for the first time in the Agency’s history, whose sole job is to seek and apply for eligible grants focused on our mission.

 The bottom line is this: MEMA is committed to being great stewards of taxpayer dollars, whether federal or state.  We are committed to accountability and transparency.  It is my promise to the people of Mississippi that your emergency management agency will always be there to support you, have the respect of everyone who deals with us, and will be the best in the nation.  My team and I have made tremendous strides over the first seven months of my tenure. I ask that you continue to watch us closely, and I promise we will make Mississippi proud.

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