Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 14, 2009

Second Day of Congressional DHS Budget Hearings; FEMA stays in

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Immigration,Preparedness and Response — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on May 14, 2009

Yesterday, Secretary Napolitano appeared on Capitol Hill for a second consecutive full day of hearings on the FY2010 proposed DHS budget.   In the morning she was on the House side, testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee. In the afternoon, she switched over to the Senate and testified in front of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

During the hearings, Secretary Napolitano faced pointed questions on the elimination of funding for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) and the 60% cut to Fire Act grants  (See my May 8th posting below assessing the Homeland Security Budget Numbers for more information on these cuts).   On SCAAP,   Members put her in awkward spot of having to defend a cut to a program that is 1) not within her Department and 2) that she had supported while Governor and Arizona.   The Secretary noted that the program – as well discussion of its elimination – falls with the Justice Department’s purview and refocused the discussion on what is in her jurisdiction – DHS’ efforts to address the flow of illegal immigration into the country.   As noted in my earlier posting, expect SCAAP funding to be partially, if not fully, restored by the appropriations committees in the FY2010 spending bills.

On Fire Grants, Members  – in all four hearings – expressed concerns about the cuts. While some of the money was transferred over to SAFER Grants (recruitment and hiring), Members remain committed to providing fire departments with equipment purchasing funds.  The Secretary did attempt to address this issue by mentioning funding in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka stimulus bill), but that argument did not appear to convince Members to support the cuts and movement of funds.  Rob Margetta at CQ Homeland Security has a good description of Member reaction in his story detailing the hearings.

Speaking of first responders, the White House formally notified Congress yesterday that FEMA will remain within the Department.  This was reinforced during the hearings yesterday when Secretary Napolitano was asked about whether FEMA would stay in DHS.   Perfect timing for a decision, as the Senate yesterday confirmed FEMA’s new Administrator, Craig Fugate, after Senator David Vitter (R-LA) dropped his hold on the nomination.  Vitter dropped his hold after he received a letter from FEMA committing to working on solutions that meet the needs of those affected by disasters.  Word is that Administrator Fugate reports to duty on Monday.  With hurricane season only a few weeks away, this appointment (and the decision to keep FEMA in DHS) is both timely and critical.

Interestingly enough, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee is holding a hearing this morning at 11 am on “an Independent FEMA.”  The hearing will focus on  FEMA “and how it has functioned since its placement in the Department of Homeland Security.” DHS is not slated to testify but it should be interesting to hear what the panelists say about the White House decision, especially in light of Chairman Jim Oberstar’s (D-MN) push for an independent FEMA.  He and other T&I Members introduced H.R. 1174, the FEMA Independence Act of 2009, back in February.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

May 14, 2009 @ 10:57 am

Well while serving 20 years in FEMA we knew that its placement and bureacratic clout was measured in part by the saying “WE are only as good as the performance in the last disaster.” Well interesting that the three biggest “catastrophic” events in my time were Tropical Storm Agnes and Hurricane Andrew. And afterwards Katrina. All hurricane related and all during Republican Administrations. What is interesting is that Presidential reorganizations occurred following the first event–Agnes– but not Andrew or Katrian. By reorganization I means almost immediate changes in the bureacratic heirarchy up or down in the Executive Branch writ large. Okay so why is this point significant. If Congress thinks the FEMA placement in DHS is such a winner–Exactly why should be documented? And now talking large unanticipated catastrophic events! Such as the three mentioned. Al three of the above were geographically widely dispersed in impacts. Really almost mulitple simultaneous events covered by a single named event.
So exactly what staffing does FEMA and DHS have for widespread geographical simultaneous events perhaps even events occurring concurrently or aggravated by multiple causation–e.g. the 1906 Earthquake in S.F. for a variety of reasons was called the 1906 fire! It is rumored that Secretary Chertoff told his replacement that 50% of his time in DHS was spent on FEMA issues! If true then why? And what is the new Secretary’s ratio of time spent on FEMA indicate? Is this because of FEMA’s competence or incompetence? The Secretaries competence or incompetence! After all “delegate or die” has much truth in it! Is FEMA more important that the other programs, functions and activities in DHS –the others being day jobs and FEMA being contingencies? Exactly what is happening here organizationally? Why does an agency with less than 2% of the FTE in DHS consumer so much time and effort. Technically not a regulatory agency, but an adminstrative grant making agency for the most part what is the problem everyone recognizes as existing? Why so much in or out discussion? Could it be because as the 1993 NAPA report “Coping with Catastrophe” concluded ultimately the President gets the response system he wants and needs. So guess the President is happy with the set up. Let’s see after the next big one if on OBAMA’s watch how happy he is with DHS and FEMA? Time will tell!

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 15, 2009 @ 10:44 am

Okay! I am slowing down on the uptake with so much going on of potential long-term significance. The FEMA decison by the OBAMA Administration announced sort of off-the-cuff by the Secretary DHS in response to an anticipated question gives me real pause, not for the decision but the lack of transparency of the process, the intentional effort to minimize its significance, and the complete lack of information as to how it was made and who was involved and what were the underlying rationales, facts, and conclusions. See my extensive comments on the Friday post by Phil with his weekly Friday roundup and maybe you can understand my deep deep concern for the Adminsitration and its processes and where that might lead the Administration, DHS, and our country. WOW!
An Alarm Bell in the Night has been sounded as far as I can see!

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