New report: DHS agencies must increase coordination to ensure energy sector resiliency

Published on September 12, 2022 by Kim Riley

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Two agencies overseen by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could improve their efforts to ensure resiliency in America’s energy sector by ramping up coordination, according to a new report issued by the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

The report delves into energy sector coordination that should take place between the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). CISA is the nationwide coordinator and facilitator of information related to critical infrastructure security and resilience, while FEMA coordinates federal disaster response and recovery.

“These two roles run parallel within the energy sector and during federal disaster response operations,” according to the DHS OIG Sept. 2 report, CISA and FEMA Can Improve Coordination Efforts to Ensure Energy Sector Resilience. “However, CISA and FEMA have not developed a comprehensive strategy to coordinate and prioritize their energy sector activities.”

According to the report, the agencies could improve the effectiveness of their coordination efforts before, during, and after power outages by implementing the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) leading practices and other key mechanisms for collaboration.

These include: ensuring energy sector efforts are mutually reinforcing; establishing compatible energy sector policies, procedures, and other means to operate across agency boundaries; and regularly updating and monitoring written energy sector agreements.

“CISA and FEMA have not focused on these areas because they have been working on other priorities for their respective missions,” according to the report. “Nonetheless, it is imperative that CISA and FEMA coordinate efficiently and effectively to reduce the likelihood of power outages and, in the case of an incident, to restore and stabilize infrastructure-related services in affected areas.”

The DHS OIG conducted an audit for the report because multiple disasters in recent years — including the 2021 winter storms in Texas — have exposed challenges and concerns America’s energy sector faces in preventing and responding to incidents.

With a focus on the nation’s electricity sub-sector, the report’s scope includes a review of FEMA’s and CISA’s coordination with critical infrastructure partners before, during, and after disasters that occurred between 2017 and 2021 and involved power outages.

“We conducted this audit to determine to what extent CISA’s and FEMA’s coordination efforts identify, monitor, and address energy sector concerns,” the DHS OIG said.

Specifically, to improve CISA’s and FEMA’s coordination efforts toward ensuring energy sector resilience, the DHS OIG made three recommendations:

  1. The CISA director and FEMA administrator should develop and document a comprehensive and adaptive framework ensuring collaboration between DHS components in support of energy sector activities, including procedures to periodically monitor and update DHS energy sector activities to ensure progress toward achieving common goals and outcomes; and identify relevant participants and eliminate challenges to data sharing.
  2. The CISA director and FEMA administrator should each review and update key guidance in support of energy sector and disaster response activities to ensure it is current, relevant, and consistent, and the agencies should work with the Sector Risk Management Agency to ensure DHS energy sector policies, procedures, and guidance are compatible and do not contain conflicting terminology.
  3. The CISA executive assistant director for cybersecurity should coordinate with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Defense to review and update the Pathfinder Initiative memorandum of understanding, as needed, to ensure the information is shared and interagency collaboration outcomes are met.

Likewise, the report notes that CISA and FEMA also would benefit from preparing a comprehensive and adaptive framework for their energy sector activities and ensuring their goals are aligned with those set by the DOE.

“Without such a plan, DHS risks losing important data that would strengthen energy sector relationships, programs, and outcomes,” the report says.

DHS concurred with all three of the OIG’s recommendations and will work to implement them.