Panel: Unfixable FEMA should close
Blethen Maine Newspapers
By BART JANSEN
April 27, 2006
WASHINGTON — Congress should dismantle the Federal Emergency Management Agen- cy in the wake of its botched response to Hurricane Katrina and replace it with an agency better equipped to respond to disasters, according to a committee chaired by Maine Sen. Susan Collins. The recommendation is among 85 to be released today by the bipartisan leadership of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The panel reviewed 830,000 pages of documents, interviewed 320 witnesses and held 22 hearings during a seven-month investigation of the response to Katrina.
Collins, a Republican, and the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, developed the recommendations to avoid recurrent problems in the event of natural disasters or terrorist attacks.
"We have concluded that FEMA is in shambles and beyond repair and that it should be abolished," Collins said. "Our report will recommend a new authority that is better equipped with the tools to prepare for and respond to a disaster."
Their report will be given to committee members today and released publicly next week. The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram obtained a 29-page summary of recommendations that the senators will release today at a news conference.
Lieberman plans to file additional views that are critical of the White House's role in the response to Katrina. He complained, for example, that the president and the White House staff seemed "surprisingly detached" until two days after the storm's landfall, adding "to a grossly ineffective federal response."
FEMA officials weren't familiar with the committee's recommendation and declined comment until the report is released.
"I haven't even seen the report or anything at this point," said Michael Widomski, a FEMA spokesman.
The report is the latest exhumation of problems with the government response after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29 and subsequent flooding inundated New Orleans.
It recommends legislation and other steps to brace against another natural disaster or terrorist attack.
A special House investigative committee reported Feb. 15 on failures at all levels of government: emergency responders didn't anticipate the catastrophe with better evacuations; poor communications paralyzed commanders; confusion delayed medical care and allowed preventable deaths.
"Better information would have been an optimal weapon against Katrina," said the report headed by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va. "The failure of initiative was also a failure of agility."
On Feb. 23, the White House issued its own report of "harsh lessons" by Frances Fragos Townsend, President Bush's assistant for homeland security.
Its 125 recommendations focused on greater cooperation among the federal, state and local agencies that respond to emergencies.
For example, the report recommended setting up a joint field office to coordinate the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense.
Throughout the reviews, for- mer FEMA director Michael Brown was criticized for failing to notify homeland security superiors about the severity of problems enveloping the Gulf Coast. He rebutted the charges, saying he dealt directly with colleagues at the White House.
Katrina exposed a lack of coordination within the Department of Homeland Security, which combined 22 agencies and about 180,000 workers after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. FEMA, which had 2,500 workers, was an office in the president's Cabinet before becoming part of the larger department.
In calling for the abolition of FEMA, Collins and Lieberman called for a National Preparedness and Response Authority within the Department of Homeland Security to serve as the foundation for the country's emergency management system.
The director would have more power, reporting directly to the president during emergencies. The agency's budget would also grow significantly as it took control of grant programs, training and other functions, such as medical operations, which are now spread throughout the homeland security department.
While other lawmakers have proposed separating FEMA from the department to restore its independence, Collins and Lieberman argued that such a move could cause new problems with duplication of functions and lack of coordination.
To protect the new agency from turf battles or reduced authority, the report proposed that it be distinct, like the Coast Guard and the Secret Service. The new agency would also be protected somewhat from across-the-board spending cuts.
"The NPRA would fuse the department's emergency management, preparedness and critical infrastructure assets into a powerful new organization that can confront the challenges of natural or man-made catastrophes," the report said.
Abolishing FEMA and creating a new agency would require legislation, leaving the decision up to Congress. But one goal of the changes is to prevent the head of homeland security from weakening the agency administratively, as lawmakers said happened under Secretary Michael Chertoff.
Washington Correspondent Bart Jansen can be contacted at 202-488-1119 or at:
Finally, calling Lieberman democrat is an insult to our intelligence. He's become a right wing fascist. With any luck, he'll lose the upcoming primary and join the long list of conservative democrats who can't cut it in the real world.