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Senate Votes to Replace FEMA With a New Federal Agency
NY Times
July 12, 2006

WASHINGTON, July 11 — The Senate voted 87 to 11 Tuesday night to create a new federal entity to replace the much-criticized Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Senate's action came in the form of an amendment to the domestic security budget bill. The new agency, called the Emergency Management Authority, would remain in the Homeland Security Department into which FEMA, which once had cabinet status, was merged in 2003. But in times of major disasters, the new agency would report directly to the president.

The Senate also voted on Tuesday to amend the proposed $32.8 billion domestic security spending bill by adding another $648 million for port security to pay for more equipment and personnel to inspect ship containers, and an extra $350 million for border security to buy aircraft and vehicles to help border patrol agents and to enhance border fences.

Final passage of the bill by Congress is far from assured. The House is still considering legislation proposed by Representative Don Young, Republican of Alaska, that would keep FEMA but move it outside the Homeland Security Department, returning it to the more prominent, stand-alone status it had during the Clinton administration.

Senators Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, who co-sponsored the legislation to change the agency, said the agency's performance after Hurricane Katrina last year was such a national embarrassment that the federal government had no option but to abolish it and replace it with an agency that had new powers and a new name.

The Senate bill would also reunite agencies assigned to help prepare for disasters or terrorist attacks with those that respond and help cities or states recover from them, functions now split in different parts of the Homeland Security Department. And it would require creation of larger, better-staffed regional emergency management offices for the new Emergency Management Agency.

"It is not business as usual, but rather a dramatic reform of FEMA,' Ms. Collins said after the vote.

The Department of Homeland Security, which has opposed totally removing the functions handled by FEMA from its control, as one House bill proposes, ended up supporting the Senate legislation, saying it "wisely reinforces D.H.S.'s ability to operate as a comprehensive, all-hazards agency by keeping FEMA's capabilities within D.H.S."

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