Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 22, 2009

Fugate’s vision of FEMA’s Future

Filed under: Organizational Issues,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on April 22, 2009

During this morning’s nomination hearing Mr. Fugate and the Senators joined in ritual obeisance to the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act.   The Senators — as authors of the act — pointed to the sacred text and Mr. Fugate  promised fealty to the sacred text.   The ritualistic nature of the performance does not distract from its value or meaning; for me it enhances the meaning.

The hearing’s headline will be FEMA to Stay in DHS.  But the shared understanding of what FEMA will do inside DHS is more interesting. Here is what the sacred text says is FEMA’s mission:

(1) lead the Nation’s efforts to prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the risks of natural and man-made disasters, including catastrophic incidents;

(2) partner with State and local governments and emergency response providers, with other Federal agencies, with the private sector, and with nongovernmental organizations to build a national system of emergency management that can effectively and efficiently utilize the full measure of the Nation’s resources to respond to a catastrophic incident or other natural or man-made disaster;

(3) develop a Federal response capability that, when necessary and appropriate, can act effectively and rapidly to deliver assistance essential to saving lives or protecting or preserving property or public health and safety in a natural or man-made disaster;

(4) fuse the Department’s emergency response, preparedness, recovery, mitigation, and critical infrastructure assets into an integrated organization that can effectively confront the challenges of a natural or man-made disaster;

(5) develop and maintain robust Regional Offices that will work with State and local governments and emergency response providers to identify and address regional priorities;

(6) under the leadership of the Secretary, coordinate with the Commandant of the Coast Guard, the Director of Customs and Border Protection, the Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the National Operations Center, and other agencies and offices in the Department to take full advantage of the substantial range of resources in the Department that can be brought to bear in preparing for and responding to a natural or man-made disaster;

(7) carry out the provisions of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5121 et seq.);

(8) provide funding, training, exercises, technical assistance, planning, and other assistance to build local, State, regional, and national capabilities (including communications capabilities), necessary to respond to a potential natural or man-made disaster;

(9) implement a risk-based, all-hazards-plus strategy for preparedness that builds those common capabilities necessary to respond to both terrorist attacks and natural disasters while also building the unique capabilities necessary to respond to specific types of incidents that pose the greatest risk to our Nation; and

(10) promote and plan for the protection, security, resiliency, and postdisaster restoration of critical infrastructure and key resources of the United States, including cyber and communications assets, against or in the event of a natural or man-made disaster, in coordination with other agencies of the Federal Government and in cooperation with State and local government agencies and authorities, the private sector, and other entities.

The response, preparing-to-respond, recovery, and preparing-to-recover focus of the legislative decalogue is undeniable.  By mission assignment number 10 we might discern some attention to prevention, but not much.  (Is it just me or does the word “mitigate” in mission assignment number 1 seem thrown in at the last moment?) 

Mr. Fugate seemed entirely comfortable with these preparedeness, response, and recovery expectations.  He is insistent regarding his focus on preparing for the next disaster. 

When asked about internal morale,  bureacracy, or other possible problems, Mr. Fugate was inclined to repeat what I expect will become the mantra of his tenure, “Are we ready for the next disaster?”  If other questions are suggested, they will probably be dismissed as distractions.

There is a need for an effective and focused federal response and recovery agency.  Fugate may be the leader who will make FEMA do the job wisely and well.  He is going to have the chance.  But what about prevention and mitigaton? What about recognizing risk in advance and investing in risk reduction before a disaster? What about serious and sustained attention to mitigation and resilience?

EDITORIAL NOTE: Please access — and contribute to — the comments on this post.  They are extending the discussion in some very important directions.

UPDATE: Coverage of the nomination hearing by the  Congressional Quarterly, Miami Herald, and  Associated Press.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

April 22, 2009 @ 11:54 am

Looks like someone knows Fugate and his knowledge and competencies are badly needed. Problems though. Most of the above is hortatory language lacking completely in specifics. PKEMA of 2006 did not really fix anything just a band-aid. So now lets see what can of administrative actions are taken once FUGATE is confirmed by both the Secretary and FEMA Administrator. FEMA really lacks standard setting and rulemaking authority to accomplish the list above and of course as always an being repetitive when will some President design, establish and operate some form of civil domestic crisis management system and chain of command. Hope the vote for FUGATE is overwhelming. He is about to find out however how little real collaboration and cooperation FEMA is allowed to conduct under DHS auspicies both within and without the Department. Let the good times roll!

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

April 22, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

I remain concerned that although Sec. Napolitano and Director designate Craig Fugate keep mentioning the word
“recovery,” I hope they are serious and will provide more details about what they plan to do to improve this element of emergency management.

Comment by J. Fred Muggs

April 22, 2009 @ 2:05 pm

Advice and Conceit

Today, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a nomination hearing for Craig Fugate, President Obama’s nominee to be the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Recall that FEMA is that little known organization responsible for reducing the loss of life and property and protecting the Nation from all hazards, including natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters, by leading and supporting the Nation in a risk-based, comprehensive emergency management system of preparedness, protection, response, recovery, and mitigation (http://www.fema.gov/about/index.shtm#0).

It is argued that Senate confirmation hearings are designed to assess the qualifications of the nominee and gain a bit of insight into how the individual might lead an organization and prioritize programs and resources. For his part, the nominee did a good job of laying out a vision for the organization, describing a leadership philosophy, and noting the organizational issues he will address if confirmed. However, unsurprisingly, for this hearing, and too many others in recent history that are sold to the public as assessing and holding accountable future Department of Homeland Security leaders, Members of Congress spent the one hour and fifteen minutes of the confirmation process offering prescient hind sighted predictions, looking out for parochial interests, and generally checking the box for purposes of historical notation to support future claims of Congressional due diligence should Mr. Fugate turn in a Michael Brown like performance as Administrator of FEMA.

After thirty minutes of Member and nominee opening statements, the six of the total of sixteen Members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee who attended the hearing to perform their Constitutional advice and consent responsibilities asked Mr. Fugate the following pressing emergency management related questions to assess his competence and qualifications for the job:

• What do you think about the wonderful job we did with the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act? (paraphrase)
• How do you pronounce your last name?
• What does the initial “W” of your first name stand for?
• How is morale at FEMA? (realizing he has never worked at the agency)

Let’s set aside the fact that prior to the confirmation hearing any Member can ask, nay compel, the nominee for a one-on-one meeting to assess the individual’s qualifications and character. Or, that each Member has dozens of personal staff and the Congressional Committee to which they belong has an equally large staff to ask and receive answers from the nominee prior to the hearing. One must wonder the true value of these modern day games of political charades and if the fourth estate is truly the only entity to which to rely in ascertaining a nominee’s adherence to federal tax laws, past business dealings, or qualifications for a given position.

Of course, none of this new. Congress has historically relegated its Constitutional advice and consent role (U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 2, clause 2) to that of either meaningless theater (déjà vu all over again – http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/1464/appointments_that_disappoint.html), such as was the case today, or vindictive partisan attacks on the nominee to send a message to the President to which he will serve. Having Executive and legislative Branches of government controlled by one party only exacerbates this Tempest like environment in which one perceives that which is not reality. To this point only one and half Republican’s attended Mr. Fugate’s confirmation hearing; the Chairman and Ranking Member.

Whether Craig Fugate, who by all accounts is soon to be confirmed, makes for a good FEMA Administrator is not the question. Rather, how can we be assured that Mr. Fugate and other Presidential nominees are the most qualified person for the job when the legislative body charged with assessing the job applicant convenes a group, schedules time, and offers a level of inquisitiveness less than one show’s worth of American Idol?

By the way, in concluding the hearing the Chairman badly mispronounced Mr. Fugate’s name.

J. Fred Muggs

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 22, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

To support J.Fred Muggs (wasn’t that the name of the Chimp on the early “Today Show?”) at least one enlightening question might have been asked of Mr. Fugate. If I had the chance to ask only ONE question it would be as follows:

Do you think the budget and staffing of the FEMA should be adequate to reduce the possibility that the DOD and its armed forces have to be relied upon to provide disaster response and recovery support to STATE and LOCAL governments?
If I had one more it would be: What can and will you do as FEMA Administrator to support the efforts of NGO’s in preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery?

Comment by Arnold

April 22, 2009 @ 11:36 pm

Mr. Cumming,

Yes, that is the name of the chimp…

But more importantly, are you calling for FEMA to have such staffing levels and such a mission as suggested in your first question? I ask because you of all the people that comment on this blog know FEMA inside and out. It is my vastly weaker understanding that FEMA DOES NOT provide or should not be expected to provide “boots on ground.”

So the CCMFRs will be trained in medical response, debris clearing, collapsed structure rescue to provide such support to local and state resources when they are overwhelmed.

In my understanding under the current structure there can be no real staffing of FEMA that could replace those federal resources (and the DMATs, etc.). FEMA is not supposed to be a first or even second responder.

So are you being provocative given the language of the revered PKEMRA? Or are you seriously suggesting that FEMA budget and staff up to provide a true federal response force separate from DOD (perhaps in conjunction with DHHS assets)?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 23, 2009 @ 7:18 am

I will look forward to how Arnold’s questions are answered. Unfortunately I will be off-line most of today making money. I will pass along this related information. A long-time, very senior, very respected state emergency manager recently mentioned that the “dirty secret” no one will talk about is that most state and local officials have “zero” experience and little training in responding to the most serious disasters. And when they have experience it is usually threat-specific, such as hurricane, wildfire, flood, or tornado. Sooo… he suggests that the current reality is: when an unprecedented, geographically dispersed, time-extended, and hard-hitting disaster unfolds, the FEMA folks are often the only ones on-site with the (hard knocks) training, psychological preparation, and professional competence to take hold of the problems.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 23, 2009 @ 10:35 am

Ah! That is the question ARNOLD and PHIL! FEMA to be or not to be? Statutorily prohibited by President Carter’s Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978 from being the 911 be all and end all federal responder and being required to maximize the funding, staffing, authorities of the entirety of the Executive Branch in catastrophic situations (catastrophic never defined) and prohibited by OMB from developing logistic, telecommunications, and other mobilization systems by OMB and various White House policy makers ( I could document all this but why since it is well documented elsewhere)FEMA was to be a collaborative and coordinating agency largely providing money to other federal agencies and departments through mission assignments (which they had no authority to reject theoretically since assignment were on behalf of the President–who often did not know FEMA Directors well until Clinton-Witt)and to STATEs and through the STATES to locals via grants for each disaster.
Of course, FEMA was perfect fall guy given this restricted role. Other federal agencies and departments could blame, White House could (stupidly blame–witness demise of Michael Brown and selection of Andrew Card for Hurricane Andrew Response as “Master of Disaster” instead of somewhat ineffectual FEMA Director Wallace Stinckney and former neighbor and buddy of John Sunnu (sic) then White House chief of staff.
So do we want a system of civil preparedness, response, and recovery, and mitigation or a scape goat. That is the real question for the OBAMA administration. Since DOD often charged FEMA overhead rates of up to 200% for its “help” billed as “humanitarian” and sometimes was but often “law enforcement” assistance and putting lid on riot and civil disorder (a DOJ mission in my opinion and one that should not ever be funded under the Robert t. Stafford Act) is an example of why FEMA is both loved and hated. After all even funding for warfare often rode the back of domestic disaster relief supplementals. So love it or hate it that is the FEMA we have had. Fugate has no idea of how complicated a shock absorber FEMA is between DOJ and DOD and the other civil departments and agencies and DOD on domestic issues. Welcome to the big time. Of course the Secretary does not have a clue either and is trapped in her background as a partner of the culture and operations of the law enforcement community.

So where does this leave US? Let’s just sit down and design a domestic crisis management civil government system and chain of command? Hey its complicated but then you know where FEMA fits in? Organizational change without resolution of the issues and policies inherent in that design is wasted effort. Both Executive Branch and individual Congressional Committees have continued to “fix” the Executive Branch by dictating organizational design, change, and operational cultures. Are they qualified to do so? They could start with their committee structure. The Stafford Act is primarily a statute designed to supplement the monetary deficicies of STATE and LOCAL governments. But look how they have ducked? FEMA does debris removal! FEMA does temporary housing! FEMA is getting into mass care and sheltering (taking over lead from the ARC—American Red Cross–but of course not staffed up to do that despite being the “New” FEMA–which is why Fugate refused to state on the record in his hearing that FEMA can do its job now! All depends on how you define FEMA’s job or jobs! Ignored by Clinton & Witt there was a national security mission for FEMA largely defined by two Executive Orders [12656 &12919) both still extant and the assets of those programs, functions, and activities were maximized by Clinton-Witt in natural disaster reponse even though the stovepipes were not at the White House level but largely designed within FEMA. By reducing personnel security clearances and mandating emphasis on “natural disaster” from the White House, Witt did not have an “all-hazard” agency but he had a pretty good (and during his term lucky) natural disaster agency which could handle the geographically limited terrorist attacks (WTC-93 and Murrah Bldg–95) and slow moving flooding events even when large scale–[12 weeks notice in the mid-west in 1993] and a quite large but not the “Big One” Earthquake in January 1994 in the best prepared state (at that time)the Northridge Earthquake.
So as you see have not quite answered ARNOLD AND PHIL but hey nothing catastrophic will happen on Obama’s watch, right? Get to work Executive Branch, and get to work Congress. How about changing the Constitution? One 4 or 6 year term for Congress? And one 10or 12 year term for the Senate? Clearly the US polity and governmental system does NOT learn. Just look at the economic crisis! Paul Samuelson, PhD and age 94 says this has no predecessor event to give guidance to the White House or those who rule our finances. So can’t learn there but we can learn from past catastrophic events impacting lives and property of US citizens and others, and responding to those events. After all at the end of this century there will be at least 100 million more of US so likehood is that consequences and damages of events will increase. We have the brain power, let’s just DO IT!

Comment by Quin

April 24, 2009 @ 8:40 am

Bill somewhat hit it, but this country does not have a national recovery strategy, nor a mission statement. For response, its generally understood by all that the state and local entities will be the primary reponders and the Federal government will supplement as necessary. In high end disasters, and quite frankly Katrina wasn’t quite one (take the entire area as one giant MSA and still falls around the 18th largest, falling between Baltimore and St. Louis) its generally undersood the Federal government will move far faster to take the primary role.

But there is nothing similar for recovery. Yes we have the Stafford Act, but it is attacked constantly from BOTH sides. Local and state governments who don’t want to pay, Federal bureaucrats that have created an Alice in Wonderland Rabbithole(s) of red tape and regulations. Until the President and Congress succinctly state what is the extent of the Federal role in recovery, and how it (may) differs for different size disasters, our national recovery efforts will continue to either take far too long or fail. Look at the site of the WTC almost 8 years later? Look at the 9th ward pushing 4 years later. Until local and state governments PREEMPTIVELY created the local ordinances and state statues to prioritize rebuilding and recovery efforts there will always be slow moving tsunami hitting victims of disasters through recovery efforts. Conversely the Stafford Act simply doesn’t encompass large disasters where entire communities, schools, homes, business, places of worship, recreation, medical, are all gone and demand a holistic approach to recovery. New leadership can help, but until Congress and the President provide leadership on this issue, while our response efforts continue to improve, recovery will continue to lag. What we will see is few Katrinas but more Galvestons. We get everyone out now, but recovery lags for years or longer.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 24, 2009 @ 9:34 am

Quin did hit it. NOLA either 35th or 38th largest US city on August 20th 2005. Stafford Act almost totally silent on recovery phase, has to be derived or inferred or implied. Congress likes it this way. Interesting that several OMB Directors have individually been involved in which disaster projects will be approved. For example, 4 brand new hospitals built in Clinton administration which gave up having FEMA ask HHS if they met additional bed criteria and then the hospitals they “replaced” were also rebuilt. Now of course no one wants Charity Hospital to be rebuilt except those in bottom 50% economic quartile that would be principal users and LSU hospital and others don’t want competition.
Hey, one fast moving event! Craig Fugate was voted out of committee favorably as FEMA Administrator. Get ready Janet N for a standup guy that knows what he is doing! Will you be letting him do it?

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