FEMA 2006, Failure Everywhere, Management Absent ©

The history of the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] is long and varied.  Now, it may end; a Renaissance is proposed.  There are formal recommendations; this agency must be abolished. Co-chairs of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Senators Susan Collins and Joseph Liebermann held a press conference this morning declaring FEMA a disaster.

Chairwoman Susan Collins told reporters today in Washington “FEMA is discredited, disorganized, demoralized and dysfunctional.”  She continued, “It is beyond repair. Just tweaking the organizational chart will not solve the problem.”

Senators Collins, Liebermann, and the Senate committee submitted a plan to ‘key senators this week, the details of which will be released publicly next week.’  In this, there are 86 recommendations.  These would undo what our current President did to change the structure of FEMA.

The 800-plus-page accounting is titled, “Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared.”  This text is a summation of three government studies.  Earlier House and White House evaluations are present in this report; however, they are cursory in contrast.  This final record is far more comprehensive; its assertions are less delicate.

Katrina survivors and those lost in this storm, deservedly required this attention. The 2005 hurricane killed an estimated 1,460 people.  Seven hundred and seventy thousand individuals were forced to flea their homes.  Many are still not able to return some eight months later.

In earlier hearings Congressional committees realized blame was simply being bandied about; nothing of substance was concluded.  As of today, a report has been filed.  Recommendations are pending; however, there is no certainty that things will change.

FEMA was officially established in 1979.  The idea for such an organization was developing for more than a century.  The Congressional Act of 1803 was considered ??the first piece of disaster legislation.’  This bill was enacted after a New Hampshire town experienced extensive damage in a fire.  People needed to be rescued; rebuilding was important.  However, the community was paralyzed.  They desperately required help.

For years after, haphazardly, emergency efforts throughout this land continued.  Attempts to organize a unified front for disaster relief were numerous, yet, disjointed.  Ironically, some might say the state of affairs then, is similar to the one we now have. However, I digress.

Ultimately, the nation’s governors came together and requested a centralized endeavor.  The Governors wanted to be certain that we, as a country, were prepared for a crisis.  These state and local leaders knew planning, in advance, was important.  Procedure must be set in place. Coordinating clean-ups is vital; no community could do it alone.  Thus, the National Governor’s Association sought the help of Former President Jimmy Carter.  They asked for a federalized emergency agency.

Mr. Carter created the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  The mission was and supposedly is, “to lead America to prepare for, prevent, respond to, and recover from disasters with a vision of “A Nation Prepared.”

FEMA grew and was improving.  During the Clinton years, Director, James Witt was appointed. All was going well.  Many marveled at what this man, with the support of Bill Clinton, was able to produce.  James Witt received “bi-partisan praise for his leadership.”  There was a consensus; this man has taken the agency in the right direction.

However, under the guidance of a quivering King George II, the institution has taken a fall.  It stumbled.  During Katrina, and likely years before, operations were bumbled, repeatedly.  After September 11, 2001, the agency was placed under the auspices of the Homeland Security office and that, some believe, is when troubles began.

Former Director, James Witt spoke of this in 2004 at a Congressional hearing. He said, “I am extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded. I hear from emergency managers, local and state leaders, and first responders nearly every day that the FEMA they knew and worked well with has now disappeared.”  It had and would have continued to; then, there was a hurricane.  It hit New Orleans hard; the gulf coast was crippled.  As predicted many years earlier, the region, the nation, and FEMA, were unprepared.

The situation, post-Katrina was bad.  It got worse.  Though the weather had been rough, the internal departmental storms of dissent, for some seemed, rougher.  Questions were raised, people [Michael Brown specifically] were excused or resigned from their posts.  The “blame-game” was banded about.

The circumstances could not be ignored.  Congress chose to act.  Now it is done, or possibly, it has just begun.  We will not know for a time.

There are recommendations and reports, as there often are in situations such as this.  However, it is said, this time is different.  Instead of the hype and hoopla, post-Andrew, the actions now being proposed are looked upon more seriously.  Senators Collins and Liebermann are asking for the total abolishment  of the existing Emergency Management Agency.  They are requesting a new organization, one that would be “better equipped with the tools [needed] to prepare for and respond to a disaster.”

According to a draft of the proposal, the new agency will remain under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security. The organization needs to be more powerful than the older model. Additional mechanism for support must be put into place.  The committee advises that this novel organization receive a budget twice as large as the current FEMA.

The current Emergency Management Agency has a budget of $4.8 billion. There are 2,600 full-time employees.  However, after careful study it has been decided these are not enough.  The money was inadequate or misused.  Employees were over worked; the organization understaffed.  Effective systems were non-existent.  Awareness was absent and communication was just a concept.

Hurricane Katrina brought the tragedy, otherwise known as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to light.  Actually, that debacle brought more to the surface. On television and in newspapers throughout the globe, America was seen for what it is, a nation of “un-equals.”  The display was quite disturbing, even for those at home.  Worldwide people saw that “Federal Preparedness” and equal opportunities were an illusion.

Plans were not executed.  Disaster relief was nonexistent.  Operations were inefficient.  People professed empathy, and yet; they were without it.  Barbara Bush welcomed the lost and hopeless, as long as they did not stay in her neighborhood for too long.

Promises went by the wayside; proposals remained only that.  Execution of these has yet to occur.  The Gulf coast poor were homeless, helpless, and hurting. There was little regard for the impoverished. For days, the administration was absent.  Our country was righteously embarrassed.  Leadership was little; compassion short-lived.  The world wondered, was America simply being conservative in its approach? The middle class felt the pressure; however, they have no real power.  They lost theirs long ago.

Fortunately, during this calamity, the affluent were also affected and that made a difference. The wealthy were injured and offended.  They were upset. Senator Trent Lott was a casualty of the storm. His oceanfront house in Pascagoula, Mississippi, was destroyed. The Senator’s 154-year old home was completely awash.  There was nothing left to call home.  After twenty plus years of living in this graceful abode, the Lott family was left with only memories.

Democratic Representative Gene Taylor of Mississippi was also victim of this tempest.  His Bay St. Louis home was ruined.  He, as an individual, was so deeply pained by the “Emergency” process that he asked about it later during a congressional investigation.

Congressman Taylor was able to query Former FEMA Director Michael Brown.  The Representative asked, “What part of the FEMA plan envisioned that the first responders in Hancock County and in much of the Mississippi Gulf Coast would have to loot the local grocery store and loot the local Wal-mart in order to feed themselves, would have to loot the local Wal-mart in order to have a change of clothes? What part of your plan was that?”

Dissatisfied with the Directors answer, Taylor respectfully replied offering, “I hope you’ll admit your mistakes. That’s the best way to learn from them.”

The Representative spoke for many.  Hurricane Katrina, then Rita, and ultimately Wilma affected thousands.  Many pleaded forcefully; they want answers and relief for their friends, families, and themselves.  Thankfully, the voices had influence, ability, and they were able to reach the public’s eyes, and ears and that made a difference.

CNN correspondent Kathleen Koch, did an in-depth assessment of her hometown after the storm. Ms. Koch returned to the city where she was raised, Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi.  She found friends, family members, and herself devastated.  Koch realized as did residents, recovery was not forthcoming.  Promises were not kept.  Relief was little.

Nine months later, families are still waiting for trailers, a home to call their own.  Insurance companies had no compassion; they merely dismissed and denied homeowners claims, [even those of Senator Trent Lott.]  Frustration filled the hearts, souls, and minds of those effected by the storm.  An ineffective agency made all matters worse.

“”Saving My Town” The Fight for Bay Saint Louis,” aired continuously on the Turner Cable News Network. This documentary was calculated and deliberate.  Ms. Koch covered this story with heart felt and heart warming finesse.  Her personal narrative may have had an impact on today’s reported decision, Let us “abolish FEMA.”

Before Katrina, we as citizens saw the inattentiveness of the President, his Cabinet, and appointees.  We knew this was standard.  The nation long ago recognized that the Emperor of Errors could not or would not separate himself from a Crawford vacation.  His associates and subordinates would not disturb their fair leader.  These behaviors were expected.  We as a country had become complacent.  After Katrina, mercifully, all this changed.  Every storm, perhaps, does hold a silver lining.

On this occasion, after this incident, Big-Man Bush had no ground zero to stand on.  There was no war to instigate.  The invisible force truly was.  Mr. Bush could not claim Katrina was a terrorist.  The weather could not be classified as the enemy.  In fact, the foe was he, his organization, his ineptness, and his inadequacies.  When he quipped emphatically, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” He knew, the bell tolled for he and his idea of a Federal Emergency Management Agency.

?¢ Mark Thoma, at Economist View offers another pertinent Paul Krugman article.  This one also addresses the FEMA dilemma, the debacle of cronyism.  Please indulge yourself.  May you enjoy . . .

Paul Krugman: The Crony Fairy

References . . .
Senate Panel Urge FEMA Dismantling, By ERIC LIPTON. New York Times. April 27, 2006
Senate Report Urges Dismantling of FEMA, By Spencer S. Hsu. Washington Post.  April 27, 2006
A Short History of FEMA Public Broadcasting, Frontline
Barbara Bush on Hurricane Katrina Refugees About Thursday September 8, 2005
Sen. Lott’s home destroyed by Katrina, From Joe Johns. CNN Washington Bureau. Sunday, September 4, 2005
Cut the red tape, Lott says CNN. Monday, September 5, 2005
Trent Lott Sues State Farm over Katrina Damage ConsumerAffairs.Com. December 16, 2005
9/29/05 Senators Lott’s Katrina Airport Repair Bill Clears Senate Office of Senator Trent Lott
How Reliable Is Brown’s Resume? By Daren Fonda and Rita Healy. Time Magazine September 08, 2005
Congress Questions Brown, PBS Online News Hour. September 27, 2005
Did the Bush administration destroy FEMA’s effectiveness? A Can’t-Do Government,By Paul Krugman. New York Times Friday, September 2, 2005
The latest on Katrina’s aftermath CNN News. Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Katrina Archives CNN News
CNN Presents Classroom: Saving my town: The fight for Bay St. Louis. CNN News. Monday, April 10, 2006
President Arrives in Alabama, Briefed on Hurricane Katrina, [“Brownie, You’re doing . . .] September 2005