Padilla, Peters, and Portman Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Transparency of Federal Disaster Relief Spending
Bill Would Require Federal Agencies to Track and Publicly Report on Spending Related to Disasters and Emergencies
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) introduced bipartisan legislation that would direct federal agencies to track all spending and financial damages related to disasters and emergencies – including pandemics, wildfires, and extreme flooding. This information would be reported to Congress and posted online to help make information about how much the federal government is spending on disaster response and recovery more accessible to the public.
“The climate crisis is here and it’s increasing the frequency and impacts of natural disasters in California and across the nation,” said Senator Alex Padilla. “And we are currently lacking comprehensive data on disaster-related federal spending. The DISASTER Act will help strengthen our federal disaster response by improving transparency in spending and allowing us to more effectively allocate resources to impacted communities.”
“Michiganders and all Americans have a right to know how much natural disasters – that are worsening due to climate change – and other emergencies are costing taxpayers. This information will also be critical to Congress so we can effectively allocate resources to agencies leading the federal response to these events,” said Senator Peters. “This commonsense, bipartisan bill will not only strengthen our federal disaster response, but also increase accountability and transparency on how the federal government is working to protect American communities from the growing threat of natural disasters and other emergencies.”
“The DISASTER Act will help inform the public and Congress about how much we spend on disasters annually and across the government,” said Senator Portman. “While agencies are required to report online how much each spends, there is no requirement to identify and track how much funding goes to federal disaster response. Congress cannot manage what it does not measure. As the number and severity of disasters increases, effective management of our response necessitates transparency and accountability of government disaster spending. The DISASTER Act will bring greater transparency and better management of the growing cost of federal disaster response.”
“The Senate’s bipartisan DISASTER Act is a critical first step by Congress to address long-standing problems in our federal spending data, especially for disasters and emergencies. These data problems make it difficult for the public to understand how emergency funds are used, and prevent Congress from quickly course-correcting during times of national emergency to address communities in need,” said Danielle Brian, Executive Director, Project on Government Oversight. “The DISASTER Act shines a brighter light on disaster and emergency spending to ensure greater accountability for taxpayer money, creating the first-ever comprehensive tracking mechanism for disaster-related federal spending and financial damages. The Project on Government Oversight fully supports the legislation and looks forward to working with Congress to enact it swiftly and with federal agencies to implement the requirements.”
CalFire estimates that the length of the 2021 fire season increased by 75 days across the Sierras and is linked to an increase in the number of forest fires across the state. This year over 3 million acres have burned and over 8,000 wildfires have been reported.
There is not currently a government-wide requirement to track financial damages and all federal spending related to federal disaster response and recovery efforts. While the CARES Act required some federal tracking of how much COVID-19 pandemic relief funds are spent, the law excluded tracking of any disaster-related financial assistance not allocated for pandemic aid. To help prepare for future public health emergencies and extreme weather events, the federal government must have a comprehensive and transparent way to determine how many federal dollars have been spent in response to these events.
The Disclosing All Spending That Ensures Relief Act (DISASTER Act) would require the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of Treasury to provide federal agencies with guidance on tracking all spending related to disaster and emergency relief. OMB and Treasury would also direct all federal agencies to track financial damages from disasters, which will help lawmakers identify potential gaps in federal spending when responding to federal disasters. The bill would require the information and data collected to be published on USAspending.gov. Finally, the legislation would require the Government Accountability Office to study and recommend on how the federal government can work to improve the clarity and quality of data on USAspending.gov.