Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 23, 2006

CRS takes a historical look at emergency management

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Preparedness and Response — by Christian Beckner on April 23, 2006

The Congressional Research Service published a new report last week entitled “Federal Emergency Management and Homeland Security Organization: Historical Developments and Legislative Options.” (Code # RL33369). The report provides a concise overview of the history of emergency management in the US government in the last sixty years, and the factors that led to multiple reorganizations over that period. The authors find four recurring questions in the debate, identify shifts in the favored answers to these questions over time. From the report:

  1. What should be the boundaries or limitations of the matters subject to the jurisdiction of the agency, department, or office charged with the management of emergencies? Should certain emergencies (e.g., nuclear facility incidents, transportation accidents, hazardous material spills) be the jurisdiction of agencies with specialized resources?
  2. Is it necessary to distinguish between natural threats (floods, earthquakes, etc.) and those caused by human action or inaction? Are all attacks on the United States, whether by military action or terrorist strikes, “emergencies” that require a coordinated response from agencies other than the Department of Defense or the Department of Justice?
  3. How should federal policies be coordinated with state policies? What are the boundaries between federal responsibilities and those held by the states under the 10th Amendment to the Constitution?
  4. How should responsibility for new or emerging threats be established? Are federal statutory policies sufficient to enable the President and Administration officials to address adequately the unforeseen emergency conditions?

The report then examines the post-Katrina debate over what to do with FEMA, and summarizes nine different bills in the 109th Congress that propose various fixes to organizational structure of the preparedness and response system. Overall, a very interesting and useful report, and one that is worth reading as this debate moves forward in Congress this year.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

April 23, 2006 @ 3:23 am

This outstanding technical report I am sure will be very useful to those proposing and opposing the independence of FEMA from DHS. Unfortunately, as this is an election year, Congress is already behind, particularly on appropriations bills, it is more likely that the stage will only be set for real action next year. The Senate report on Post-Katrina reforms may impact this conclusion but I doubt it. Therefore further events could very well impact the debate and perceptions in the Congress. It is interesting that no one has yet priced out the various recommendations of organizational and other changes recommended by the Post-Katrina reports. It is not going to be cheap and the only question is how will it be funded? The stakes are high and the Governor’s are getting very nervous as Washington dithers.


Comment by J.

April 24, 2006 @ 8:20 am

Brilliant! Thanks for locating this document, it is very illuminating. I’ve been looking at the whole CB defense/homeland defense issue, and I believe that the failure to examine these exact issues – what US agencies were selected to do HLS and why – is a primary reason why our current “biodefense strategy for the 21st century” is significantly flawed and doomed to fail. This is a serious public policy issue that has had little to no debate on the fundamentals of “why have an HLS agency” and “what should FEMA’s role be?”

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