Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 17, 2009

DHS IG Weighs in on FEMA Question

CQ’s Rob Margetta today published a white paper from DHS IG Skinner to Secretary Napolitano on the question of FEMA’s location as part of DHS or separate from it, likely reporting directly to the President as some critics advocate.

The paper is accompanied by a memo from IG Skinner to the Secretary explaining that it was written in response to a request from the Congress. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ordered the memo as part of an oversight effort focused on the question “FEMA: In Or Out?”


Skinner is a hold-over from the Bush Administration and in his memo to the new boss at DHS, he states outright that regardless of the decision to “remove FEMA or leave it in DHS, you may be assured that my staff and I stand ready to assist you and the President in helping DHS strengthen its capabilities and become the preeminent department in the federal government.”

I’m not quite sure by what metric Skinner and his team intend to measure preeminence, but I sure do appreciate the nonpartisan spirit.

Skinner’s memo recommends keeping FEMA where it is: a component of DHS that reports directly to the Secretary, or to the President in times of crisis.

Obama’s FEMA Choice Nears:
GovExec ran a story today by Eileen Sullivan and AP’s Liz Sidoti that suggests a few names are beginning to surface after a recent winnowing of the pack of likely nominees to head FEMA. Top choices include:

  • Craig Fugate, Florida’s emergency manager
  • Ellen Gordon, Iowa’s former emergency manager
  • Both Fugate and Gordon are seasoned professionals with more than 20 years of emergency management experience.

    As head of Florida’s emergency management agency since 2001, Fugate oversaw the response to several hurricanes, including 2005’s Dennis and Wilma.

    Gordon was head of the Iowa Emergency Management Agency in 2004 when storms tore across parts of the Midwest, hitting the hardest in Iowa.

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    Comment by William R. Cumming

    February 17, 2009 @ 1:23 pm

    Richard Skinner was the Deputy IG in FEMA long before there was a DHS. He was FEMA’s acting IG when FEMA entered into DHS. FEMA IG was under the IG Act of 1978 and was added to that statute in the late 1980’s. Since virtually no OIG funding or staff came into DHS from other predecessor agencies, the FEMA OIG staff and budget became essentially the DHS OIG staff and budget. An understaffed underfunded FEMA OIG became an understaffed and underfunded DHS OIG.

    While the report is interesting really covers no new ground and does have many technical errors. Sloppy for an OIG report. Examples. FEMA was not created by Executive Order. It was created by Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978 which by law has the force and effect of statute. Two key Executive Orders issued in 1979 implemented it, most frequently cited is E.O. 12148 a now often amended E.O. and which now delegated Presidential authority to the Secretary DHS not the Administrator FEMA. Another example of technical error, FEMA was never a cabinet level organization. President Clinton named James Lee Witt an Ex Officio member of the cabinet in the spring of 1996 after Director Witt had been originally confirmed in the Spring of 1993. Of note, Witt was confirmed after the first WTC bombing which occurred in February. Also Witt was specifically instructed by Clinton to ignore all other mandates for FEMA and focus on natural disasters. This direct Presidential oral mandate was subsequently modified by the issuance of PD-39 in 1995 assigning FEMA a role in consequences management of domestic terrorism, a role that had always been assigned by the Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978 referenced above. That reorganization plan by the way became a legal nullity for the purposes of budget execution and authority for programs, functions, and activities assigned to FEMA’s Director (note not the organization) when the Homeland Security Act of 2002 was enacted and became fully effective on March 1, 2003. Even today, the Adminsitrator FEMA still does not have a clear understanding of what authorities have been delegated directly to him/her by the President or delegated to the Secreatry DHS and redelegated to the Administrator FEMA (or not). I would argue that FEMA has continued to lose not gain authority since March 1, 2003, even with the enactment of PKEMA (the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006). Seems long overdue for the Administrator of FEMA to know what he/she has for authority. Perhaps this is one reason for the hold-up picking a new Administrator by the OBAMA administration. I argue for a role of FEMA in the domestic crisis management system and chain of command but technically as Micahel Brown found out that role does not exist now.

    Comment by Christopher Tingus

    February 18, 2009 @ 6:37 am

    After reading the response herein of the distinguished William R.Cumming as to technical errors in the report at hand, as a ordinary citizen, the unacceptable and unprofessional “technical errors” in the report and the disorganization of FEMA and disconnect to DHS and local agencies is frightening at best!

    To see the disorganization and disconnect in Washington and the same ‘ol, same ‘ol politics being played out before us, while entrusted leadership lauds itself over billions of fiat dollars made available to the good ‘ol boys while we truly wonder if it is worth crawling to a phone in our moment of desperate need and calling 911 knowing that State and local budget cuts have placed our profesional and very much committed police, fire and EMT’s in jeopardy, never mind us in our moment of desperate plea….

    When can we expect a FEMA and DHS to be given the priority we demand. I (we) are appalled at the billions so easily and quickly transferred to felons without tranparency and the billions of fiat dollars being printed and dispersed without immediate attention to detail and an organized FEMA and DHS and to the preparedness of our local hero, the police officer, the firefighter, the EMT who are on the front line every minute of the day and night….

    Another F4 and F5 will strike, another hurricane certain, an earthquake yet the – change – promised in reasurring us that our 911 calls will be addressed in a timely manner and the reality that we may very well be attacked – yesterday – by an enemy lurking within or along our shores better prepared in their planning to pounce seeking our demise employing bio/chem and cyber strategy requires our daily regiment in being vigilant, yet you bet turning our cheek to a Washington which seems to feel it knows better than us and professes such in its arrogant and demeaning tone while we here on the street truly wonder not whether Hamas is truly addressing the needs of people we, too care about even if on distant shores, but who is guarding the chickens here.

    Let me assure you that we as the people need not author a “Government for Dummies” book and hand to those who are supposedly committed to public service often in six figure salaried positions who most often and deservedly are referred to as – “politicians” for the portrayal of those who profess they know more, write more and more pages daily in just not what to do!

    *On another note from here on the street – invest in batteries for electric cars with at least some of the fiat dollars being printed and put the unemployed people to work making better batteries holding longer charges for electricity is the future and whether we like it or not, within fifteen years most of us baby boomers will be driving electric cars and oil will simply be used as a lubricant lending to a Middle East which must face the facts that it will be broke and should be educating its young with books to compete in a technologially-oriented sphere, not sending kids onto the streets to blow themselves up when ar least we here on the street see past the self-agenda of Washington and other politicians in other countries – let’s be earnest in our conviction to protect ourselves, however let’s look to education and a future which promises mankind longevity to 125 years and older and an inherent creativity so very Blessed!

    Let’s get our first responders and our nation’s security organized and afforded the support it requires if we are to remain intact and a beacon of hope to so many others – let’s get it done!

    We are a great nation and a good people and clasping hands together demanding integrity, accountability and the vision to excel is America!

    Christopher Tingus
    Harwich (Cape Cod),MA USA

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