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.