Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 14, 2006

FEMA reform: the view from Baton Rouge

Filed under: Organizational Issues,Preparedness and Response — by Christian Beckner on January 14, 2006

The Baton Rouge Advocate has an interesting piece today that summarizes a press event with officials in Louisiana’s state audit agency. The officials describe their frustrations with FEMA’s decision-making practices (or lack thereof):

“Our problem with FEMA is that there is no one here who can make a decision and it remains that decision,” [legislative auditor Steve] Theriot told reporters and editors at the conference.

“FEMA gives different answers to different people,” said Joy Irwin, an assistant legislative auditor.

The article then assesses what it finds to be the root causes of these bureaucratic snafus:

While it’s easy to blame difficulties with FEMA on incompetent bureaucrats — and we don’t doubt that there are instances of that — [general counsel Jennifer] Schaye’s comments point to a larger problem:

FEMA was not made with the large-scale destruction of an entire city in mind. Because of that, even with the best of intentions, FEMA officials are unable to respond effectively to what happened in Louisiana.

The article then suggests the need for a “wholesale retooling of FEMA” – not just small fixes at the margin. I think that’s a correct assessment, so long as it’s not simply a structural fix – i.e., moving the boxes around – but one that gets to the heart of the decision-making processes within FEMA and removes legal, procedural, and cultural bottlenecks to individual initiative across the organization.

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1 Comment »


Comment by William R. Cumming

January 18, 2006 @ 4:10 am

A close look at the Code of Federal Regulations, Titles 6-Homeland Security and 44-Emergency Management reflect the tremendously outdated official delegations of programs, functions and activities of the former FEMA (whose official legal existence as an independent agency terminated on March 2, 2003. For example, 44 CFR Part 350 concerning approvals of off-site evacuation plans for fixed nuclear power plants (see also 10 CFR Part 50 appendix E)does not indicate who in DHS can approve such plans. More important the flow of authority in any declared Presidential disaster or emergency pursuant to the Robert T. Stafford Act 42 U.S.C. Sections 5121 et. seq. are not reflected. Nor do standard position descriptions exist for FCO’s that consistently reflect current DHS administrative delegations. In brief, there is NO chain of command.

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