Bill Would Implement Changes Recommended After Katrina Failures
Jun 29 2006
WASHINGTON (June 29, 2006) – Looking to improve how the federal government prepares for and responds to natural disasters and terrorist attacks, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., today introduced legislation that would reinvent and strengthen the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The bill would implement many of the recommendations made by the Senate Homeland Security Committee, on which Carper serves, after a 7-month-long investigation into the mismanaged federal response to Hurricane Katrina. In short, the legislation rejects calls to separate FEMA from the Department of Homeland Security. Instead, the bill would keep the newly-named agency, the U.S. Emergency Management Authority, within the DHS but grant it more independence in order to strengthen the authority of its leadership and better coordinate preparedness and response activities with state and local officials. The bill is sponsored by Senate Homeland Security Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. “Katrina exposed numerous problems within FEMA, primarily a lack of leadership at the top and stunning lack of coordination on the ground,” said Carper. “You can’t legislate common sense, but you can try to fix what’s wrong and make it right. This bill will strengthen and expand our federal disaster-response activities so that the next time, God forbid, a Katrina-sized storm or a terrorist act occurs on our soil, the American people will be protected.” The following are the highlights of the bill: • The US Emergency Management Authority will become an independent agency within DHS, much the same as the Secret Service and the Coast Guard. The DHS secretary will have no authority to reorganize or restructure the agency, erode its assets or functions or alter its mission without congressional approval. • The administrator of the USEMA will report to the DHS Secretary but will also have direct access to the President to advise on emergency management issues, much as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs does on military issues. The administrator will also have the authority to make recommendations directly to Congress, a responsibility not previously afforded to directors of FEMA. • The bill would make it easier for local and federal officials to work together and coordinate both preparedness and response functions. Under the new USEMA, preparedness functions will be joined with response capabilities, so that state and local officials will work with the same team in preparing for and responding to disasters. Recent moves at DHS have separated FEMA’s response staff from those working year-round on things like planning, exercises and the distribution of grants to states and localities. • The USEMA would have a strengthened regional focus, with new “strike teams” for faster and more effective response. These teams would ensure that the USEMA is familiar with regional threats and with state and local emergency personnel before disaster strikes so the federal government can more rapidly and effectively cooperate with first responders and public officials. • The bill also establishes a National Advisory Council on Preparedness and Response – comprised of state and local officials and emergency management professionals from the public and private sector – to advise the director of USEMA.