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April 27, 2006

Feh. National Preparedness and Response Authority

Senate panel recommends the elimination of FEMA.

WASHINGTON - Hurricane Katrina's latest fatality should be FEMA, the nation's disaster response agency, a Senate inquiry concluded in calling for a government overhaul to avoid future failures like those the devastating storm exposed.

Okay. Hey, I'm all for reducing non-functional organs of the Federal government (though I don't happen to think tossing FEMA is a rational solution). I have some perspective in this arena. My last job on active duty as a Military Support to Civil Authority (now DSCA, or Defense etc.) planner at 5th Army (now ARNORTH) in San Antonio. We worked closely with (really, *for* in a sense) FEMA when acting in our MSCA role.

One thing the Clinton Administration did *well* was put Jimmy Witt in charge of FEMA. One *huge* failure of the Bush Administration was devolving FEMA to an organ of Homeland Defense. The whole Homeland Defense construct is *still* dysfunctional, and that lays squarely at Bush's feet. FEMA is a shadow of its former self - with no bad cess to day-to-day FEMA employees in general, I know they are still struggling to make it work. The upper structure of the agency and the structure of it's over-sight agency is at fault.

In this, the panel has it correct.

The recommendations conclude that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is crippled beyond repair by years of poor leadership and inadequate funding.

That is this administration's fault - though that is ameliorated somewhat because they were focused on 9/11 style responses that they lost the bubble about the more common disasters... like hurricanes. So, what do the Senators recommend?

They call for a new agency — the National Preparedness and Response Authority — to plan and carry out relief missions for domestic disasters.

Okay. Really. I am *so* impressed. It just gets better.

The new authority would communicate directly with the president during major crises, and any dramatic cuts to budget or staffing levels would have to be approved by Congress. But it would remain within the Homeland Security Department and would continue receiving resources from the department.

Okay, at this point, I throw the bullshite flag. This is a perfect example of "Change is the Illusion of Progress."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who led the inquiry by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the new authority would be "better equipped with the tools to prepare for and respond to a disaster."

She described FEMA as a "shambles" and said the change "will help ensure that we do not have a repeat of the failures following Hurricane Katrina."

Really? It will? Aside from the fact that DHS is busy trying to digest all those lessons from Katrina and implement changes, how is it going to make a huge difference?

It's not like the current FEMA employee base and structure won't be the basis of the "new" agency. Ya *really* gonna start from scratch? Nope. Didn't think so.

Unless you are *really* going to break the paradigm, this is simply taking a tire, scraping the "year" of "Goodyear" off, and painting on "rich" to make it a "Goodrich" tire.

An opinion shared by Homeland Defense, and, Michael Brown, the hapless director of FEMA during Katrina.

But the proposal drew disdain from Homeland Security and its critics, both sides questioning the need for another bureaucratic shuffling that they said wouldn't accomplish much.

"It's time to stop playing around with the organizational charts and to start focusing on government, at all levels, that are preparing for this storm season," Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said.

Former FEMA Director Michael Brown, who resigned under fire after Katrina, said the new agency would basically have the same mission FEMA had a year ago before its disaster planning responsibilities were taken away to focus solely on responding to calls for help.

"It sounds like they're just re-creating the wheel and making it look like they're calling for change," Brown said. "If indeed that's all they're doing, they owe more than that to the American public."

Indeed, if that's all they got, can we get our money back for that study?

The whole story that fired me up is here.

I'll go hunt up the recommendations and see if this is what it seems, or if it's just incomplete reporting on the part of the AP, missing the forest for the trees. I guess I owe the Senate *that* much.

Update: Here's the Exec Summary. No, I haven't read it yet.

Okay - I've read it. The AP did a singularly carp job of reporting.

I think it's evenly written and apportions blame all 'round, with pretty much nobody but the Coast Guard and some unnamed private firms getting a pat on the back.

The "Seven Foundational Recommendations" are a ringing condemnation of this and previous Administrations and Congresses.

The weaknesses laid out with recommended solutions are *not* new, nor did they suddenly appear because of the Bush Administration. The FEMA personnel I worked with in 1998-2000 (where we were focused on terrorism and Y2K) were aware of the flaws in the system - and the lack of money for dealing with them (and this was after Hurricane Andrew and similar other disasters)

These fissures were thrown into stark relief by the effects of the redirection of effort due to the focus on prevention of and response to 9/11-style events drained money from on-going efforts to improve and enhance response to large-scale natural disasters.

After a surface read, I like it. I can understand why DHS does not - much of what is being proposed is on-going, I know for certain in DoD. Northern Command, the DoD agency responsible for this is a new command, still standing up and getting organized - but will provide a full-spectrum headquarters to coordinate the DoD response, overseeing a JTF Headquarters that would come out of ARNORTH in San Antonio. The function of Defense Coordinating Officer, until recently an additional duty of Regional Training Brigade commanders, is moving to a permanently assigned active duty Colonel, with a reserve component Deputy, who will have a mixed civilian/military planning and execution staff, who will be aligned with and located with or close to, the FEMA Regional Headquarters. All of this is intended to streamline and enhance the DoD response capability. Similar things have occurred within Pacific Command, which has responsibility for Alaska, Hawaii, and the Pacific dependencies of the United States.

DHS no doubt does not wish to see another powerful department head created, and in fact think they've got this under control. Perhaps they do - but I've long thought that FEMA was under-graded so to speak, and so I am supportive of this direction.

Nice to see the Senate understands that they, along with the House, and the Administration, have been remiss in their duties themselves... though for the most part they only mention the Administration.

John | Permalink | Comments (6) | Pugnacious Stupidity
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