Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 23, 2015

Leaning Towards Stafford 2.0: The FEMA Disaster Assistance Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 1471)

Filed under: Disaster,General Homeland Security — by Quin Lucie on March 23, 2015

On March 19th, the Committee leaders for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management introduced a bill that might set the stage for significant changes to the Stafford Act, the primary source of legislation to provide federal disaster assistance.

The proposed law seeks to make important changes to specific federal disaster programs. These include providing protections and benefits to members of the Urban Search and Rescue System, making places of worship that provide essential services to the general public eligible for disaster assistance, providing eligibility for hazard mitigation funds to States receiving fire management assistance, and changing the threshold for utilizing simplified procedures for FEMA’s Public Assistance Program.

HR 1471 would also provide relief to individuals and States that were incorrectly awarded disaster assistance funds by FEMA, through no fault of their own, and prevent FEMA from seeking to recoup those funds after a period of time had elapsed, forcing the agency to “step up its game” even further to get awarding disaster assistance right the first time.

However, it is the reports and studies required by this proposed legislation that might result in the most significant impact. The reports seek to explore not just the way federal disaster assistance is delivered, but who is in fact responsible to deliver such assistance in the first place.

The first set of reports aims to improve the delivery of federal disaster assistance. FEMA would be required to report how it seeks to improve the transition of case files between rotating reservists, a longstanding issue for the agency. Another provision would require FEMA to report on the assistance available to commercial and governmental housing COOPS and condominiums. A third report would explore the different standards for electric utility facilities between FEMA and the Rural Utilities Service of the Department of Agriculture.

A fourth report  might set the stage for fundamental changes to the Stafford Act.

Within 120 days of the passage of HR1471, FEMA, through its National Advisory Council (NAC), would be required to identify trends in disaster costs and contributing factors to these changes such as “shifting demographics and aging infrastructure.” It would also focus on those factors specifically contributing to federal disaster declarations. The NAC would  be tasked to identify all available forms of federal disaster assistance, how quickly these funds were used, and how they were coordinated, while also identifying what disaster costs are borne by the private sector and individuals. The NAC would also be required to look more generally at “mechanisms and incentives to promote disaster cost reduction and mitigation” and to “identify fundamental legal, societal, geographic and technological challenges to implementation.”

The data to be collected sets the stage for what would be the most important part of the NAC’s work: reporting on the “fundamental principles that should drive national disaster assistance decision making, including the appropriate roles for each level of government, the private sector and individuals.”

It’s been nearly 30 years since Congress last looked at these roles. This would be no easy task given the entrenched interests across the spectrum of disaster assistance. Moreover, any serious report would have to confront the difficult issue of whether certain forms of disaster assistance, such as flood insurance, over time, provide adverse incentives to reducing disaster costs.

But just because these questions might be hard to ask, and their answers difficult to hear, it could launch a long overdue, but sorely needed, debate about who is responsible for disaster assistance, who should bear and regulate the risks, and ultimately, who should pay.

————————-

Quin Lucie is an attorney with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and received his masters degree in Homeland Security Studies from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School. The opinions of the author are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security or the Federal Government.

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7 Comments »

Pingback by More Details on Pending Changes to FEMA’s Enabling Legislation | Recovery Diva

March 23, 2015 @ 6:18 am

[…] this account of the pending changes to the Stafford Act, the enabling legislation for FEMA.  The author is an attorney with […]

Comment by claire rubin

March 23, 2015 @ 6:19 am

Quin: see my reblog of your piece in RecoveryDiva.com

I am puzzled as to why the National Advisory Council to FEMA was chosen to do the essential analyses. I think that either the National Academy of Sciences or the National Academy of Public Administration would have been better choices.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 23, 2015 @ 9:54 am

Interesting that a so-called REFORM bill likely to increase federal outlays and not reduce them thereby promoting more disasters rather than less.

Again the PUBLIC ASSISTANCE PROGRAM should be turned into block grants. SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING should be the focus of the rest of federal disaster efforts. And just as REPETITIVE LOSSES undermine the NFIP disaster grants should require tougher and tougher MITIGATION and PREPAREDNESS.

And again Congress must face whether it wants a FREE FEDERAL DISASTER RELIEF EFFORT or utilization of the INSURANCE MECHANISMS of programs like the NFIP!

As to why the NATIONAL ADVISORY COUNCIL is the study agent for Congress unlikely that ANY REPORT WILL BE TIMELY OR PROMOTE REAL REFORM!

Why? The NATIONAL ADVISORY COUNCIL is riddled with CONFLICTS OF INTEREST!

And BTW the bill in the current version will never become law!

N.B. Disaster financial policy is controlled by the Department of Treasury and not DHS or FEMA.

Of course it would be of major help if FEMA OCC would prepare a section-by-section version of Stafford with the addition as to published final regulations, if any, for each section or other official guidance and posting of that document for the interested public.

BTW the two federal level organizations continuing to thrive by charging FEMA huge overhead rates for mission assignments are DoD’s USACOE [which should be transferred to DHS] and the United States Coast Guard which is rapidly SINKING UNDER DHS.

All overhead rates charged FEMA for MISSION ASSIGNMENTS BY OFAs should be made publically available including the written MISSION ASSIGNMENTS themselves.

NO FEDERAL APPOINTEE OF FEMA OR ITS EMPLOYEES HAVE EVER BEEN JAILED FOR GETTING KICK-BACLS OR NON-MONETARY BENEFITS FROM GRANTEES OR SUB-GRANTEE3S SINCE PERMANENT DISASTER LEGISLATION BECAME LAW IN Public Law 875 of the 81st Congress.

And no OIG effort has ever looked closely at GRANT ADMINISTRATION compliance by FEMA and in particular OMB-Circular A-87!

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 23, 2015 @ 10:45 am

An organization called the Homeland Security Council still legally exists having been created by statute as was the FEMA Advisory Council.

Various reports of various councils and advisory groups have been published on FEMA and DHS from time to time. No systematic study of these reports by these organizations exist.

The FACA [Federal Advisory Committee Act] has long been undermined even by the Congress with its statutory exemptions to FACA. FACA was a reform statute that tried to give the interested public insight as to who was giving advice to the federal departments and agencies. Some of that advice was useful and some not but often lost in the mists of time.

FEMA had an advisory body originally that was created by Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1978. It was abolished by Director James Lee Witt when he failed to renew its charter.

These reports constitute an important historical record and should be compiled, analyzed, and provided to the interested public.

Would you be surprised to learn that several of the “reforms” in the new bill discussed in the post were also discussed in the 80’s?

FACA exempts State Officials from being subject to FACA when they give advice to federal organizations.

Pingback by Prepper News Watch for March 23, 2015 | The Preparedness Podcast

March 23, 2015 @ 12:35 pm

[…] Leaning Towards Stafford 2.0: The FEMA Disaster Assistance Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 1471) […]

Comment by Arnold Bogis

March 23, 2015 @ 11:27 pm

Let’s pretend for a moment that anything could get passed into law by this Congress. What stakeholder groups/interests would be for and against these suggested reforms?

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 24, 2015 @ 9:13 am

BTW the USAR effort in FEMA was largely opposed by FEMA leadership [especially the FIRE SERVICE] and would have ended 6 weeks before the 1995 MURRAH Building bombing. If memory serves all or most of the TEAMS were deployed to Oklahoma City and were the real stars of that event and FEMA response led personally by Director James Lee Witt.

Oddly the political appointees in FEMA supported the USAR effort over opposition to it from career staff and the FIRE SERVICE D.C. lobbies.

I had a very small part in saving it but I did free up a lawyer named Stephanie to help protect it. Two young stars that helped the program were named Beverly and Mark and were keys to its success. I also was in a meeting with the politicos (only career person present]when I was asked to go on the record as to my position on USAR.

Here is what I said! First note that the Federal Civil Defense Act [Public Law 920 of the 81st Congress] contained specific authority for SAR at the federal level. And at one time over 200 FTE were devoted nation-wide to SAR in the civil defense effort. That included training Boy Scouts in SAR. The previous fall to the Oklahoma City bombing Congress repealed the FCDA while incorporating part in a new Title VI of Stafford. See Public Law 103-337. That new Title VI and its legislative history authorized SAR.

Then as always I was dismissed while the politicos decided the fate of SAR. Thankfully it survived.

But IMO all local fire service units should have some SAR capability.

The SWEDES have the best SAR units in the world followed by the Israelies.

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