Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 27, 2009

Fussing over FEMA

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on February 27, 2009

On February 11 the Federal Emergency Management Advancement  Act was reintroduced  by Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK).  With a much more promising launch, earlier this week Congressman James Oberstar (D-MN) Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced the FEMA Independence Act ( HR1174 has not yet been posted to THOMAS).  Both propose returning FEMA to the status of an independent agency.

Yesterday the House Appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security held a hearing entitled Disaster Response: Is FEMA up to the Job? The witness list included the acting FEMA administrator, a prospective FEMA administrator and the Adjutant General of Kentucky.  I was not able to view the webcast, but media reports indicate witnesses claim red tape complicated the FEMA response to the Kentucky ice storm.  What a surprise.

There are thoughtful and insistent advocates for FEMA being in or out of DHS.  Everyone agrees on the importance of a FEMA administrator who is experienced, competent, and savvy.  Whoever it is needs to be able to play at the top table when disaster strikes.  It would be great if he or she had the kind of credibility to push for meaningful mitigation and prevention before disaster strikes.   Maybe General Jones would be willing to take on this role too?

But whoever the FEMA administrator is and regardless of to whom the FEMA Administrator reports, there is a need to finalize the agency’s place and – even more important – its mission.  The perpetual fussing distracts from preparedness, readiness, and execution of current work.  (See today’s Times-Picayune for an example.)

FEMA is worth fussing over.  But it has been seven years now.  At some point the fussing needs to end.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

February 27, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

I continue to argue FEMA in or out is really the wrong issue. I have some assurance based on the wording of PSD-1 issued February 23rd that some in high circles understand the issue of domestic civil crisis response has never been adequately addressed by any President. Expect that even though we have to wait for late April for the results of the study some higer ups understand that the stakes for any President are high with domestic crisis management. Just hoping no critical incidents and events before this is resolved because there is no way the Senate has the votes to authorize FEMA leaving DHS. Not a wasted effort though because it gives new members of Congress and new staffers an opportunity to understand the policies and issues behind the formation and termination of the old FEMA as an independent agency. As the 1993, NAPA (National Academy of Public Administration) report “Coping With Catastrophe” concluded President’s get the kind of Emergency Management and crisis management they want. As any added footnote seldom discussed FEMA was prohibited by the specific language of Reorganization Plan No.3 of 1978 “Federal Emergency Management” from scaling up to deal with catastrophic situations. Instead it was to rely on the programs, functions, and missions of the other Executive Branch organizations and the STATE and LOCAL governments. I argue that some of these organizations and governmental units are documented failures now in their day to day ops much less in a catastrophe. Clearly only the federal government has the resources to cope with simultaneous geographically disbursed incidents/events but EMAC was a good start by the STATE and LOCALs.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

February 28, 2009 @ 4:49 am

Thank you Mr. William R. Cumming for your enlightened and knowledge which you share in this blog regularly affording us – Mr. & Mrs. Joe Citizen – the opportunity to see this very need for better organization and precise mission statements and preparedness by federal, state and locally entrusted first responders who we here in our local communities call 911 and believe will be available and respond in an organized manner in time of unfortunate need resulting from events much larger in scope.

I am confident you would agree as you have pointed out in your numerous blog contributions and your support of local public safety response as an advocate for police, fire and EMT’s that the federal governement must award more federal support to the 250 metro cities’ – first responders – as we cannot rely on States and local cities and towns to support these essential personnel – for as we see here in New England where of course my passion and commitment to first responders is my priority – portrays departments being cut below acceptable levels of the minimum in safe levels for both first responders themselves and to the victim in dire need of assistance in an accident or medical requirement at scene or transport – never mind in some catastrophic event –

(We) need more money to support our police, fire, and EMT’s and if one wants to call it a – bailout – for first responders then all I can say is that we need help from the federal government – pls help the men and women who have chosen to help us in our moment of desperate plea and let us better prepare for all scenarios which will affect us – We need assistance yesterday for unfortunately we are facing an economic decline which continues to promise much challenge ahead and while partisan politics continues in the beltway on most issues, the reality is that we must clasp hands and understand the real priorities – We need help here in our local towns and we rely on a committed FEMA and DHS leadership!

Let’s get it together as the clock is ticking and while our fiscal situation worsens, global politics continues to shift and any relish in witnessing our disorganization and lack of stewardship in responsibly addressing the reality of assuring a resilient and confident populace where those seeking our demise will think before challenging our infrastructure.

Christopher Tingus
Harwich (Cape Cod), MA

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 28, 2009 @ 4:47 pm

In battles in OMB in the past the issue of First Responders was often labeled a purely STATE and LOCAL issue. That rationale no longer hold water across the public safety spectrum (police, fire, EMTs, HAZMATs, EM) for the following reasons. Until local governmental units are rationalized, there are almost 90,000, many have no real response capability and rely totatlly on volunteers. Given that rationalization of local governmental entities makes sense and should be left to the STATES, the federal government has an obligation to see that public safety capability is available for at least 72 hours and arguable 24/7 even when the feds are at their best for mobilization of response. Thus, I argue that 25% of total public safety capability is a national asset, should have standards across the board for equipment and personnel, and that 25% share just indicates that the federal government benefits from local preparedness (as well as STATE). The history of the federal civil defense program is applicable and remember the primary focus of that program was strategic nuclear attack. The original law, Public Law 81-920 placed a mandate on STATE governments with some federal assistance to provide for civil defense. Remember that unlike Great Britain where the Fire Service ran and continues to run Civil Defense, in the US the Fire Chiefs were united in not wanting to deal with a hazard you could not see, smell, or hear, at least in part. In 1958, the statute was modified to a 50/50 program and of course eventually was modified depending on the specific activity being funded like EOCs. Time to recognize the public safety first responders as a national asset. For example, suppose key administration officials are visiting a local area when targeted for actual attack. Time to grow up OMB. Hope someone at the semi-annual NEMA meeting reads this comment.

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