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Public Contract Law Journal

Public Contract Law Journal Vol. 51, No. 1

Lessons from Disaster: Improving Emergency Response Through Greater Coordination of Federal, State, and Local Response Efforts

Lucinda Hendrix


  • Describes current landscape of major emergency response legislation: The Stafford Act
  • Identifies problems with emergency response under the Stafford Act
  • Discusses Federal purchasing program available to state and local governments
  • Proposes reforms to GSA's Cooperative and Disaster Purchasing and FEMA's Advanced Contracting Programs
Lessons from Disaster: Improving Emergency Response Through Greater Coordination of Federal, State, and Local Response Efforts
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This paper considers the many flaws of the current emergency response landscape in the United States through the lens of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. It suggests an intentional move towards better coordinated efforts between federal, state, and local governments to achieve a more effective and efficient process for reacting to the inevitable disasters of the future. This can be done through a reconsideration of already existing federal procurement programs that allow for state and local governments to order independently, such as the General Services Administration’s Cooperative and Disaster Purchasing programs and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Advanced Contract program. This Note recommends creating a specialized schedule contract for emergency purchasing under the General Services Administration’s Cooperative Purchasing program. By pre-negotiating contracts for goods and supplies needed across emergencies, the expertise of federal, state, and local governments can be employed to present a fuller and more cohesive emergency response structure.

I. Introduction

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced the United States to once again confront the inadequacies in its emergency response procedures, particularly in procurement at the federal level. As the catastrophic impacts of the coronavirus rippled across the globe throughout 2020, the failings of the American emergency response system could no longer be disregarded. The Trump administration arguably lost its opportunity to restrain the virus by largely downplaying (and at times, outright ignoring) the realities of the pandemic early on. However, the missteps did not stop there. Panicked consumers eviscerated supply chains, leaving many without basic necessities, such as toilet paper and other dry goods. Healthcare workers across the country were left without adequate personal protective equipment, exposing themselves to the deadly virus. Stimulus checks and increased unemployment benefits intended to support the almost fifteen percent of American workers left unemployed due to widespread stay-at-home orders were slow to hit the bank accounts of those most in need.

The scale of benefits doled out also proved inadequate to avoid devasting impacts both to the overall national economy and many individuals and their families. Legislative attempts to address the effects of the virus, such as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, largely confused the public and brought more relief for impacted corporate industries than struggling households. Federal policy makers have been forced to employ legislation outside of its intended purpose, such as using the Defense Production Act to fulfill orders for a variety of coronavirus related needs including testing kits and vaccines.

While COVID-19 is used in this Note as a case study of the problems in the current system, the observed errors are not unique to the COVID-19 pandemic, and similar failures have stemmed from disasters throughout American history. Time and time again, when faced with a large-scale national emergency, the United States has been forced to rely on a broken system made up of weak agency delegation programs, legislation cobbled together in the immediate wake of the emergency, and defense regulations stretched beyond their intended capacity to fit the situation’s immediate needs.

The centerpiece of emergency management legislation, the Stafford Act, often drives federal response, but the Stafford Act is deeply flawed and often undercuts its own support measures. The Stafford Act is also used as a “one size fits all” strategy for disaster response, ignoring the unique intricacies and complexities of each event. For example, in March 2020, the Stafford Act was used to declare an emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Stafford Act has rarely been used in responding to public health emergencies, presenting a new set of problems for emergency management while also highlighting those seen in the past.

While the problems with current federal approaches to emergency management are widely acknowledged and well-documented, no major changes have been made to the federal emergency response process since the mid-2000s after Hurricane Katrina. The current federal emergency response practices are disjointed and add unnecessary complications to already difficult situations. The federal processes used to address disasters also hinder the government’s use of resources to effectively support those in need and force state and local governments to fill in the gaps without the necessary funds or training.

Typically, local efforts from state and local governments are more effective in meeting these needs because they are in a closer proximity and better positioned to understand and respond to the emergency. Given their size and structure, state and local governments are able to be more innovative and targeted in their responses to emergencies. They are not as tightly restricted by program requirements or mandates when compared to their federal counterparts. These smaller scale responses are more flexible and adaptive to the immediate needs of a situation, as they are often not required to meet overarching program goals or other statutory mandates. State and local governments are also better able to understand the finer, less obvious aspects of emergency response, particularly the impact of a disaster on social inequities and how to “improve protection for the most vulnerable populations in their communities.” Solely federal relief realistically is not a sustainable option when planning for long-term response. Not only is the funding available limited, but there are likely many emergencies occurring across the states needing the support of the federal government at any given moment and thus the focus (and attention given) is constrained.

While all widespread emergencies are unique, certain complications can be anticipated in any emergency regardless of the specific circumstances, such as disruptions in supply chains or the need for medical and other life supporting supplies. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic must be used as an opportunity to re-evaluate the federal emergency response. The current approach to national emergency management must be restructured into one that considers the common conditions of national emergencies and better prepares for their inevitable occurrence. Federal purchasing power and administrative expertise must also be used to amplify state and local efforts in a way that actually aids the American public in addressing emergencies.

Federal purchasing programs, such as the General Services Administration (GSA)’s Cooperative Purchasing and Disaster Purchasing programs and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s Advanced Contracting program, can be easily restructured to better support federal disaster response. Both the Cooperative Purchase and Disaster Purchase programs allow state and local governments to make purchases from the GSA Schedules contracts. In Cooperative Purchasing, orders are limited to specific Schedules, but can be placed at any time. In Disaster Purchasing, orders can be made from any Schedule, but only during a Stafford Act Presidential declaration of emergency. Expanding these programs during an emergency would allow state and local governments to benefit from the buying and administrative power of the federal government.

The Advanced Contracts program from FEMA, which operates like a GSA Schedule in that contracts for goods and supplies anticipated to be needed in an emergency are pre-negotiated through the agency, can also serve as a model for future reforms to federal purchasing program. State and local governments could use the program to better prepare for emergencies by pre-purchasing anticipated supplies necessary for responding to emergencies.

Currently, each of the aforementioned programs have institutional barriers, further outlined in Part III of this Note, which largely explain why they are not being widely used in federal emergency response. Part IV of this Note goes further to propose how the Cooperative Purchasing program can be reformed, using elements of the Disaster Purchasing and Advanced Contracting program, to better allow state and local governments to take advantage of federal support during emergencies.

This Note explores how fostering and encouraging greater utilization of already existing federal, state, and local purchasing partnership options can dramatically improve the emergency response landscape in the United States. It will first look to the current emergency response landscape at the federal, state, and local levels. The Note will then suggest better coordinating future efforts through expanding the circumstances under which federal purchasing programs can be used by state and local government. It will also explore how these programs can be used to emphasize the importance of anticipating the typically necessary goods and services that will be necessary to respond to an emergency in order to be prepared before disaster strikes.

Part I describes the current landscape of major emergency response legislation, anchored through an evaluation of the Stafford Act. Part II will then assess the problems with the current system. Part III will describe GSA’s Cooperative and Disaster Purchasing programs and FEMA’s Advanced Contracting program, the set of federal purchasing programs that should be used to reform coordinated national emergency response. Part IV will then propose how the Cooperative Purchasing program can be reformed by incorporating elements of the Disaster Purchasing and Advanced Contracts programs to strengthen ties between federal, state, and local government and improve the collective emergency response. Part IV will conclude by summarizing the issues under the current emergency response system and suggesting how reforming existing federal purchasing programs could provide a more efficient and effective solution to disaster relief.

II. The Current Landscape of Major Emergency Response Legislation: The Stafford Act

While there are multiple pieces of federal emergency response legislation (and new bills with each disaster), the Stafford Act is at the center of all federal efforts. This Part will discuss how the Stafford Act operates with regard to a nationally recognized disaster.

The Stafford Act allows state and local governments to request disaster assistance in the wake of an emergency from the federal government. To receive federal aid, state governors must make a request under either of two declarations by the president: (1) a “major disaster declaration,” or (2) an “emergency” declaration. A major disaster is

any natural catastrophe . . . in any part of the United States, which in the determination of the President causes damage of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant major disaster assistance under this chapter to supplement the efforts and available resources of states, local governments, and disaster relief organizations in alleviating the damage, loss, hardship, or suffering caused thereby.

Emergency is defined as “any occasion or instance for which, in the determination of the President, Federal assistance is needed to supplement State and local efforts and capabilities to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in any part of the United States.”

The President and executive branch retain a large amount of control over federal emergency relief dollars, even when the intent is to support a state or locality. The President acts alone in declaring a Stafford Act event, regardless of the severity or immediacy of the disaster situation. As currently adopted, “the Stafford Act . . . does not name any threshold for damage sustained in the affected area or any specific mathematical formula in determining suitability for disaster declarations.” The Stafford Act only stipulates that “federal assistance programs are limited either to a fixed dollar amount or to a percentage of eligible costs.” The President may direct federal agencies to use their resources to support state and local efforts or provide direct financial assistance to state and local governments through the Congressionally-appropriated Disaster Relief Fund. This fund is usually capped at $5,000,000 per emergency, but the President may authorize additional dollars if necessary.

A Stafford Act emergency declaration is coordinated through FEMA and its ten regional offices across the United States. Almost all of the powers under the Stafford Act have been delegated to the FEMA Director, with the major exception being the ability to actually declare emergencies and major disasters, which, as was previously discussed, remains with the President).

FEMA was previously a stand-alone agency reporting directly to the President but was moved under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) after its creation in 2002. Although FEMA continued to manage and coordinate federal disaster response under this arrangement, the agency “lost its independent decision making capabilities” and now must “make decision within the larger framework of the Department.” FEMA’s absorption into DHS arguably has caused “the federal government’s natural disaster programs to become lost among a 21st century resurgence of civil defense,” which prevents the agency from effectively responding to disasters. The Stafford Act cannot be properly administered without the full power of a dedicated federal agency to manage national emergency response.

Among its requirements, the Stafford Act encourages giving preference to local contractors and to transition existing federal contracts to local contractors whenever possible. Initially, the Stafford Act included this provision as a suggestion, but a 2006 amendment responding to Hurricane Katrina, entitled “the Local Community Recovery Act,” implemented a “statutory mandate of providing a preference for local organizations when contracting for major disaster or emergency assistance activities.” These preferences can be given “in the form of a set-aside or an evaluation preference when using full and open competition.”

When a federal agency elects “not to award a contract to a local firm under the Stafford Act, the head of the contracting activity must provide written justification for doing so.” On the surface, this preference seems like a positive element of the current disaster response strategy. In practice, however, requiring the use of local contractors slows the relief process and minimizes the government’s ability to take advantage of pre-negotiated contract benefits. This Note will later recommend reforming this aspect of the Stafford Act as to better utilize local contractors as a part of federal emergency response.

III. Problems with Emergency Response Under the Stafford Act

This Part will detail two key issues under the current Stafford Act. First, the impact of partisan politics on Stafford Act declarations. Second, the weaknesses in FEMA’s management of disasters.

A. The President Has the Sole Authority to Declare a Major Disaster or Emergency, but Often, Politics Influence How (and If) the Declaration Is Made

History reflects that not even an issue seemingly safe from partisan politics, such as emergency management, has remained untouched by rising political divides. The vague language and limited congressional regulation of the Stafford Act allow a disaster to be declared whenever the President does (or does not) see fit. Scholars have theorized that “states politically important to the president have a higher rate of disaster declaration by the president, and disaster expenditures are higher in states having congressional representation on FEMA oversight committees.” An analysis of Stafford Act declarations from 1953 to 2016 has also demonstrated that a higher number of disaster declarations are made during presidential election years. While large scale disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, are hard to ignore, the response to smaller emergencies tends to correlate to the region’s political importance.

A recent example is the devastating 2019 and 2020 California wildfires. California Governor Gavin Newsom and President Donald Trump battled over the disaster declarations necessary to release Stafford Act aid funding. The Trump administration cited California’s failure to clear forests of dead trees and debris as the official reason for withholding an emergency declaration. But as Newsom and Trump have publicly sparred over a variety of political issues for years, there is likely more to the story. President Trump eventually reversed his course and allowed the aid to be released, but it was too late to stop millions of acres from being burned across the state and causing record environmental and property damage in addition to lost lives.

Research has also shown that disaster declarations are at least in part driven by electoral maps, finding that the President is more likely to respond quickly in politically important regions. As the former Director of FEMA James Lee Witt, stated, “as we are all aware, disasters are very political events.” Unfortunately, these politics can stand in the way of necessary aid to Americans most in need.

B. After a Stafford Act Emergency Designation, FEMA Is the Agency in Chargeof Coordinating Aid, but Its Assistance Is Not Always Effective

FEMA is responsible for managing Stafford Act disaster declarations, but the agency’s efforts often fall short of the affected area’s needs. FEMA’s implementation of the Stafford Act was largely criticized in its response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, particularly in addressing the temporary housing needs of disaster victims. Many were alarmed to find that FEMA had not “learn[ed] from [its] experiences and developed expertise at averting housing crises” in its twenty-six-year existence before Hurricane Katrina, during which the agency was repeatedly “charged with providing temporary housing to victims of numerous major disasters.”

While changes were made to FEMA’s emergency structure in the wake of its missteps post-Hurricane Katrina, the agency’s disaster response efforts in the years since have reflected that many management problems remain unaddressed. This has resulted in continued delays in getting immediate aid to those impacted by an emergency. After Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, FEMA failed to provide the island with necessary clean water, resulting in widespread illness and several deaths. FEMA has since acknowledged it was not prepared to provide an effective response.

Despite these ongoing response failures, FEMA has not been held accountable for its poor decision making as the agency asserts that response failures are inevitable due to the quick decision-making necessary during a disaster. This has the practical effect of eliminating any federal consequences or other kind of responsibility in the wake of a failed disaster response. Since FEMA and other agencies do not face any kind of real liability after these events, it is also understandable why legislative changes have not been made sooner. Even if reactionary reforms are passed through Congress in the future, there will not be any retroactive penalty for past failures.

Further, although the regional FEMA teams provide all the help they can upon arrival, they can “only be as generous as is authorized by statute and regulation.” This aid will only last for a short period of time as compared to the devastation resulting from the emergency. The focus quickly changes from “restoring essential services at almost any cost, to repairing the damage at the lowest cost,” which is logical considering the high number of emergencies occurring simultaneously across the United States at a given time. The regional FEMA teams are not a sustainable long-term solution to disaster.

Additionally, as many of FEMA’s programs are facilitated through reimbursed grants, “it becomes particularly important for a community to understand what is eligible for federal assistance.” This can delay a community’s ability to respond, likely compounding the impact of the disaster. Confirmation of grant eligibility from FEMA is incredibly important, particularly in ensuring reimbursement for costs incurred while providing relief. The literature offered by FEMA detailing the requirements of these programs can be vague or otherwise confusing, leaving those directly impacted by the disaster to choose between risking the reimbursement process or playing it safe by going without necessary aid. This system has the potential to leave communities in worse conditions than they were in before the FEMA programs began as local officials must deal with not only the negative impact of the disaster but the withdraw of federal aid as well.

IV. Federal Purchasing Programs Available to States and Local Governments

While regional responses to a disaster vary due to differing local regulations and other management strategies, state and local entities often offer a more effective response to emergencies as they are able to better understand the immediate needs of a community. However, when addressing these needs, state and local organizations may struggle with efficiency, potentially due to a lack of funds or administrative experience. Combining the strengths of consolidated federal contracts with the specific knowledge of state and local responders will produce a more well-rounded emergency response structure.

This Part will identify few existing tools for state and local governments to access federal contracts: GSA’s Cooperative Purchasing and Disaster Purchasing programs, and FEMA’s Advanced Contracting program.

A. GSA’s Cooperative Purchasing Program

In 2008, GSA’s Cooperative Purchasing program was developed to allow state, local, and tribal governments to purchase through a limited number of Schedule contracts.” Schedules utilize indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts to spread administrative costs between multiple agencies to obtain a more competitive pricing for the good or service being procured. Placing an order through a cooperative purchasing Schedule is relatively easy and straightforward as:

it utilizes an existing contract to establish a relationship between two entities (federal to local, interagency, state to local, etc.) to transfer goods or services. Generally, two or more entities identify a common procurement need and sign an agreement, while one of the entities . . . conducted the administrative work of solicitating proposals and awarding the contract. Then, other entities that wish to participate sign agreements of participation and are given access to order off of that contract.

The Schedules allow much of the legwork involved in contracting to be done ahead of time, making individual orders quick and easy.

Utilizing a cooperative purchasing Schedule contract can bring a number of benefits, including: (1) producing lower prices since the market share is leveraged by large government consumer, and (2) providing higher quality products and services as the federal government has access to “specialized specification writers, procurement professionals and technical evaluation committee members.” Schedules can also “reduce administrative costs because the preliminary work has been done,” and increase expediency since “customers simply select products and services from the cooperative contract catalog, saving considerable time and effort.” The program assures the contract has been developed “in accordance with . . . regulations” and that the government is receiving the best deal possible.

The GSA Schedules are primarily used by the federal government, but through the Cooperative Purchasing program, state and local governments can also benefit from the simplified procurement process. Cooperative Purchasing is limited to just two of the GSA Schedules at this time. Currently, state, local, and tribal governments can make orders through Schedule 70, which includes “general purpose commercial information technology equipment, software, and services,” along with Schedule 84, which includes “total solutions for law enforcement, security, facilities management, fire, rescue, clothing, marine craft and emergency/disaster response.”

As Major Kevin Wilkinson explains, IDIQ contracts are incredibly desirable in emergency situations because of their flexibility and ability to address “goals and objectives [that] evolve as immediate needs and concerns arise, including those unknown or not planned for.” By widening the accessibility of Schedules, state and local governments could use these contracts to purchase, for the best value, not only items that tend to be necessary in all emergencies, but what is needed to address the specific conditions of each disaster as well.

B. GSA’s Disaster Purchasing Program

A similar program exists through GSA’s Disaster Purchasing program. Disaster Purchasing operates like Cooperative Purchasing in that state and local entities are able to make purchases directly off of a GSA Schedule. However, in Disaster Purchasing, the state and local entities can take advantage of all of the GSA Schedules, not just Schedules 70 and 84, provided that there is an active Stafford Act Presidential declaration of disaster that is being managed by FEMA. Similar to Cooperative Purchasing, Disaster Purchasing brings the benefits of a federal contract to the state or local buyer, including the administrative ease of having the contract pre-negotiated and a guarantee that the contract is the best value available. As Disaster Purchasing is only available under a Stafford Act Presidential declaration, it is not an everyday solution to the problems currently associated with emergency procurement under the Stafford Act. State and local governments must navigate through the difficulties of the Act (notably, the politicization of the actual declaration) in order to receive the benefits of the program.

Historically, there is not much documentation available about use of Disaster Purchasing in other emergencies. However, GSA is presently advertising the program to state and local governments as an avenue for responding to the coronavirus. As of January 2021, there is a web page on GSA Advantage outlining how the program can be utilized to address the coronavirus pandemic. The site also provides lists of suggested products and services that can be purchased to aid disaster relief by category. The site features categories, such as “cleanup and rebuilding” including “disinfectants, water treatments, brooms and mops, hand tools, plastic sheeting, and exterior materials” under products as well as “building and construction services” including “portable restrooms, air and water purification, and storage tanks.” The web page also links to other coronavirus response related federal aid programs, such as Office of Personnel Management Emergency Guides, the National Response Framework, FEMA training, and the National Disasters and Severe Weather Center. Federal disaster assistance should mirror the coordinated guidance and resources offered through this GSA Advantage page as a model for future support efforts.

C. FEMA’s Advanced Contracting Program

Under FEMA’s Advanced Contracting program, contracting for goods and services necessary for emergency response is done ahead of an emergency in order to facilitate more “efficient, cost-effective means for rapid delivery of supplies and services for recurring disaster response and recovery.” This program anticipates what supplies and services will be needed in an emergency, such as “boxed and bottled water for disaster survivors” and “consumable medical supply shelter support items” and pre-negotiates contracts for their later purchase.

Like the Cooperative and Disaster Purchasing contracts, many of the contracts organized through FEMA’s Advanced Contracting program are IDIQ contracts and can be for either a single or multiple award. Although the Advanced Contract program was created “to expedite the acquisition of supplies and services during emergencies,” the program has not been maximized. Congressional reporting has since determined that FEMA’s strategy with Advanced Contracting “did not meet the intent of the Post-Katrina Act” because the program was minimally utilized and “goods and services for people in need may have been delayed or were more costly to the Government.” FEMA’s Advanced Contracting program has the potential to be incredibly useful in emergency management but has not been employed enough to have a widespread positive effect.

D. Why These Programs Are So Minimally Used by State and Local Governments

Currently, neither Cooperative Purchasing nor Disaster Purchasing are being implemented by state and local entities in high rates as a part of their response to emergencies. As an initial observation, these programs are not widely publicized, and it is highly probable that many states and even more local groups do not know of their existence.

Even when a state or local organization is familiar with Cooperative or Disaster Purchasing, they may anticipate that the program will not yield worthwhile or otherwise desirable results. An online survey focused on including Cooperative Purchasing as a part of an organization’s larger procurement strategy conducted by Government Procurement (Go Pro) Magazine found that those in the field had positive responses to elements of the program, including “expense savings . . . well written contracts, expanded pricing tiers and better quality of service.” But other factors, such as a state or local government preference to purchase from local contractors and efficiency concerns, were drawbacks. One survey respondent highlighted local preference, stating that “[i]n these tough economic times, with short staff and less money, it is very helpful to have cooperatives to utilize when in a time crunch; but even better if your local vendors are an option on the cooperative.” In addressing Cooperative Purchasing and efficiency, another survey respondent noted that “[w]hen you have to do more with less, you appreciate efficient, timely service . . . [i]t is difficult to use a cooperative contract if the vendor frequently leaves you waiting for an answer. If the service associated with the contract is lacking, it defeats the primary purpose of using it.”

Although this survey and its data does not specifically address Cooperative and Disaster Purchasing in relation to emergencies, there are connections that can be made between the survey data and using these programs in emergency response. Generally, contractors from both the public and private sector enjoy the benefits of these programs, such as high quality, pre-negotiated contracts for necessary goods or services, but struggle with the contract’s minimal connection to local businesses and the overall efficiency of the process. In emergencies specifically, it is foreseeable that these concerns would be heightened as the community wants to rally together after going through a difficult situation. Timeliness in response time of providing relief goods and services is also understandably at the forefront of concern.

V. Reforming GSA’s Cooperative and Disaster Purchasing and FEMA’s Advanced Contracting Programs to Better Support Emergency Procurement

With only a few slight changes, federal purchasing programs that allow for state and local ordering can be reimagined in a manner that addresses the shortcomings of the Stafford Act. These programs can then be utilized as viable and even desirable forms of coordinated emergency response contracting. Congress should amend the Stafford Act to specifically mandate a specialized emergency Schedule contract under the Cooperative Purchasing program. While a larger emphasis on FEMA’s Advanced Contracts would likely have some positive impact in the field when responding to disasters, the purchasing and administrative power within GSA would be more ideal for housing the reformed purchasing program in order to provide a much greater and more widespread response. However, the general concept of the Advanced Contracts program, particularly pre-considering and even ordering what a locality may need in addressing an emergency ahead of time, should be incorporated into the reform of the GSA programs. GSA’s contracting expertise combined with FEMA’s knowledge from years of on-the-ground participation in emergencies would likely produce an extremely effective emergency purchasing system.

When looking to what changes should be made to Cooperative and Disaster Purchasing, the first reforms should be to the kind of contracts available for state and local governments to order from. GSA should be guided by the categories currently available through FEMA’s Advanced Contracts as well as from discussions with leadership from the 10 FEMA regional offices on supplies and services during disaster needed despite the emergency type or region affected. Input can also be taken from state and local stakeholders to ensure that the contracts are for solutions needed by the community. The supplies and services that these groups suggest can be translated into IDIQ contracts, which would carry with them all the typical benefits of a federal contract. The meetings with these interest groups can also be used to advertise the program and increase its use across the country.

While the Stafford Act’s preference for hiring local contractors likely had good intentions, such as keeping businesses operating and allowing them to be a part of restoring their communities, it has negatively impacted the cost and efficiency of emergency response. Under this proposed program, local contractors producing necessary supplies could be sought out and solicited to become a part of the Schedule ahead of the emergency so that they will be ready for orders whenever necessary. A specific set-aside or preference could also be added to the Schedule to further emphasize purchasing from local contractors. Using this program to target local contactors would not only further capitalize on the expertise of those most familiar with the region, but also keep the community involved in its own emergency response.

Involving the local community, both as stakeholders and as actual contractors, will result in a more targeted, effective emergency response, while also likely reducing the burden on FEMA. Generally, greater awareness must be brought to the availability and accessibility of federal purchasing programs (regardless of reforms) so that state and local governments can take advantage of them in the future.

While this program could feasibly be structured through either the Cooperative or Disaster Purchasing programs, several factors favor the use of Cooperative Purchasing. An additional specialized emergency response Schedule could be added to the Cooperative Purchasing options (currently only Schedules 70 and 84) for state and local governments to order from at any time. States and local entities can pay for what is ordered off of these contracts from their own budget appropriations as well as through Stafford Act declaration aid funds. When selecting the contracts to include on this new Schedule, a set aside for smaller contractors could be included to address the local contractor preference of the Stafford Act. By coordinating reforms through Disaster Purchasing, these umbrella contracts would only be available for state and local governments to order from during a Stafford Act Presidential declaration of major disaster or emergency. Focusing on Cooperative Purchasing as a vehicle for reform will produce a similar result while foreseeably lightening the impact of partisan politics on emergency response, as the ability to order from the umbrella contracts will not be tied to a potentially politicized Stafford Act emergency declaration.

When adjusting federal purchasing programs to benefit disaster response, reforms must consider the full scope of the action’s impact to ensure that changes are not unintentionally hurting the area intended to be helped by the effort. If reform efforts continue to be so short sighted, state and local governments will not be encouraged to take advantage of any federal programs aimed at improving cohesive emergency response. Instead, these entities will continue to use their own procurement systems and the issues associated with the current disaster response landscape, particularly in relation to emergency procurement, will continue to exist.

By making the minimally invasive (both in impact to cost and administrative burden) change of adding a new emergency Schedule contract, the structures of Cooperative and Disaster Purchasing as well as Advanced Contracting can be reinterpreted to provide a fuller, more streamlined process for emergency procurement. These changes would be a step towards a more cohesive nationwide emergency response system that would no longer rely on quickly pieced together legislation or using federal programs outside of their initial intent. By more directly involving and actively coordinating federal, state, and local governments in emergency procurement through a combined purchasing system, response efforts will be more effective, more efficient, and stronger overall.

VI. Conclusion

The flaws in the current American emergency response system cannot continue to go ignored. As the coronavirus pandemic has once again illustrated, the federal disaster management system is convoluted by the idiosyncrasies of the Stafford Act and often unable to provide aid efficiently to those in need. While state and local efforts tend to be more effective in addressing the immediate needs of a community after a disaster, they are often underfunded and not easily scalable. An expansion of the existing federal procurement programs, Cooperative Purchasing (taking in elements of Disaster Purchasing and Advanced Contracting) would coordinate the efforts of all three levels of government and produce a new system in which the expertise of federal, state, and local governments could shine. Allowing state and local governments to take greater advantage of federal IDIQ contracts by having a specialized emergency Schedule will increase their purchasing power, a step towards addressing the many problems in the current emergency response system. State and local governments can also use this new Schedule to better prepare in advance for anticipated emergencies, such as weather events, or with supplies that are shelf stable. As new emergencies occur with increased regularity in the United States, we must take active steps towards having a productive and successful emergency response system, beginning with emergency procurement.