The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee held a hearing today on “National Emergency Management: Where Does FEMA Belong?”Â Sec. Chertoff and Adm. Thad Allen testified at the hearing, making a case for keeping FEMA where it is – the latter reflecting on his experience as Principal Federal Officer during the response to Katrina and describing how cooperation between FEMA and the Coast Guard has never been closer.
1. The problem is not structural. FEMA has substantial problems, but there is no evidence in recent times that it has performed substantially better as an independent agency than as a part of DHS; that differences in performance are the result of different structures; or that fundamental restructuring is likely to improve its results.
2. The solution must develop the capacity for an all-hazards-plus strategy. It is tempting to send a strong signal by pulling FEMA out of DHS. But that would only undermine its ability to accomplish its mission. Instead, FEMA needs to redefine its mission: to create capacity for an all-hazards-plus strategy that links preparedness and response, for both terrorist events and natural disasters.
3. Some organizational solutions would make things worse. That strategy requires keeping FEMA in DHS. Breaking these pieces apartâ€”separating response to terrorism from response to natural disasters, separating preparedness from response, separating FEMA from DHSâ€”would inevitably bring problems. We would surely suffer from duplication and overlap, as we recreate the same functions elsewhere in the federal government; and confusion and coordination problems, as we seek to link together what we have just separated.
4. Leadership matters most. Structure matters. But leadership counts far more.
He later argues that the cornerstone of leadership is developing “operational awareness,” defined as “a keen sense of front-line realities, and how to provide the federal support needed to maximize the effectiveness of front-line officials.”
This is exactly right in my opinion, and is consistent with what I’ve been arguing as the debate about what to do with FEMA has moved forward over the last few months.
For more info, you can listen to the archived audio of the hearing. And I’ll put up press coverage of the hearing if/when it’s online.