Monday afternoon DHS announced that management oversight of the Mississippi Long Term Recovery Office (LTRO) in Biloxi, Miss. will be moved to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regional office in Atlanta, Ga.
A DHS news release quoted Secretary Napolitano for a justification, “This signifies all of the progress that has been made in Mississippi. Office consolidation will lead to faster decision making and smoother and more efficient operations as we move forward. It’s an important step in finishing the rebuilding effort and getting residents back on their feet even faster.”
FEMA regional offices typically manage post-disaster recovery operations, but following Hurricane Katrina, LTROs in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas were created under the Gulf Coast Recovery Office. Offices in Texas and Alabama have already transitioned back to regional management. FEMA continues to operate its Louisiana office.
On March 5 and 6, Secretary Napolitano visited Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf coast promising “to speed up some projects that have been in the works for too long,” according to MSNBC. On March 11, DHS announced the creation of the Unified Public Assistance Project Decision Team that, according to a news release, is “designed to facilitate the decision-making process between FEMA and the State of Louisiana.”
The New Orleans Times-Picayune explains there has been a “protracted struggle between FEMA and state and local officials in Louisiana about how much rebuilding work qualifies for FEMA dollars under the federal Stafford Act…”
In a September the GAO told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee that, “While receiving millions of dollars in federal assistance, state and local governments bear the main responsibility for helping communities cope with the destruction left in the wake of major disasters.” (The complete GAO testimony on Disaster Recovery is available from the GAO website.)
Which begs the question, is FEMA best suited for managing long-term recovery? This has certainly become one of its many roles. Despite recent efforts by Secretary Napolitano to say otherwise, FEMA is widely perceived as the institutional equivalent of the paramedic responding to a 911 call, the acute care team caring for a crash victim in the emergency room, the physical therapist providing long-term rehabilitation, and the insurance provider processing financial claims for all this care. And, oh by the way, FEMA is supposed to play primary care physican, diet counselor, and exercise coach in its prevention, mitigation and preparedness roles.
In private life I would be skeptical of a single medical office that attempted this full range of care. At the very least, I would want to be sure that each of the functions were carefully organized, well-funded, supported with state-of-the-art technology, and staffed by the very best specialists proudly displaying certificates of their regular engagement in high-level professional education. I would want to be served by the Mayo Clinic. Does the analogy hold?