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:
- 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?
- 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, â€œemergenciesâ€ that require a coordinated response from agencies other than the Department of Defense or the Department of Justice?
- 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?
- 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.