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GUEST,Woody BS: KatrinaGate (932* d) RE: BS: KatrinaGate... 20 Jun 06

The Wrong FEMA Fix By Greg Anrig, Jr.

The entire 749-page report of the Collins-Lieberman Committee is now available and it's the most comprehensive chronicle to date synthesizing every mind-boggling failure you've heard about and many, many more. It lacks the stylistic virtues of the 9/11 Commission report, but it's pretty riveting reading nonetheless. Unfortunately, the committee's most important recommendation is completely wrongheaded, as the report itself demonstrates. Instead of retaining the agency's functions within the Department of Homeland Security while renaming it as the National Preparedness and Response Authority yeah, that'll work much better! -- FEMA should be restored to its pre-DHS incarnation as a separate cabinet-level agency accountable directly to the president.

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Many of the reasons why FEMA's capabilities deteriorated so badly are directly attributable to its inclusion within DHS (recognizing that the selection of crony Joe Allbaugh as its initial pre-9/11 director started the downward spiral in a big way). Here are a few examples from the report:

    * After FEMA became part of DHS, Secretaries Ridge and Chertoff removed "preparedness" responsibilities from FEMA. Those activities, which include planning and conducting exercises as well as establishing standards, in the past helped to create effective working relationships between FEMA's staff and state and local officials. They also helped everyone to be on the same page when an actual emergency arose. Peeling off those responsibilities and the people who carry them out left FEMA with workers who had a less immediate grasp of whatever plans had been made. Relationships with state and local responders disappeared in the process. Several long-time FEMA officials said that separating the preparedness functions was a huge mistake, and it wouldn't have happened in the absence of turf battles initiated by the creation of DHS.
    * The highly successful emphasis in the 1990s on an "all-hazards" approach one in which emergency preparation and response is organized to function the same regardless of the exact nature of particular disaster dissipated. As part of a department created to focus on terrorism, FEMA's historical mission of dealing almost exclusively with problems created by Mother Nature became diluted by worrying about dirty bombs, sarin attacks, and so forth. It's still possible to retain an all-hazards approach in the context of preparing for terrorism as well -- the committee recommends as much but the reality is that almost everything FEMA does still relates to a natural disaster. Situating it in an anti-terrorism department has had the effect of excessively complicating the agency's mission.
    * The report is filled with stories about how FEMA was unable to get adequate funding for staff, procurement, communications, logistics and so forth. That is unsurprising since its move to DHS has made it a small fish in a massive bureaucracy. When FEMA was a cabinet-level agency, with the director having the ear of the president, inadequate funding and staff vacancies were much less of a problem.

FEMA used to work about as well as a government agency can, and nothing about 9/11 justified turning a silk purse into a sow's ear. The Committee report continues to talk about all the wonderful "synergies" that keeping FEMA or NPRA, whatever in DHS will generate. Synergy was a word that the very same people who pushed for the creation of DHS in the first place used a lot at the time. But so far, we've had nothing but whatever the opposite of synergy is. People who know what they're talking about like Richard Clarke and James Lee Witt think we should save FEMA from DHS, potentially saving a lot of lives in the process. Brownie at least admitted his mistakes, and now Bush, Collins, and Lieberman should admit theirs.

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