House panels OK conflicting plans to fix FEMA

Two House committees set up a battle over the future of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday, with one approving legislation to make it an independent agency again and another backing a bill to enhance its position within the Homeland Security Department.

At the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, members approved by voice vote legislation supported by panel Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, and Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., to make FEMA independent. Their legislation would elevate FEMA to a Cabinet-level agency, with its director reporting to the president.

Homeland Security Committee members unanimously approved their competing bill to expand the agency's powers within the department. The measure also would establish a cadre of politically appointed undersecretaries and assistant secretaries to address specific problems, such as the ability of emergency responders to communicate with each other in emergencies.

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., called his panel's bill the "first major step" to deal with FEMA's shortcomings in a "constructive, positive" way. But Young called on his committee members to "stick with the troops" to ensure that the House takes up his bill first. "We made a mistake in the structure of Homeland [Security]," Young said.

The Transportation and Infrastructure bill next goes to Government Reform.

King said that "almost everything except where FEMA ends up" is open for discussion and that the Young-Davis bill and his panel's measure are compatible in most ways. "This is not one of those brutal battles," he said. "I am certainly going to work with them."

Transportation and Infrastructure ranking Democrat James Oberstar of Minnesota noted that he recommended at the time FEMA was put into the Homeland Security Department that the White House not approve the new organizational structure. Oberstar and others said the department's primary focus on preventing terrorism has undermined FEMA's ability to deal with natural disasters and other emergencies.

Oberstar also rejected the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's idea of creating an agency to deal with national emergencies and disasters. "I don't think we should scrap FEMA," he said. "We have the framework in place. We just need to reconstitute it."

Young promised to work with committee members who raised concerns such as strengthening language to provide job protections to people who temporarily assist FEMA during emergencies.

The Homeland Security Committee bill was drafted by Emergency Preparedness Subcommittee Chairman Dave Reichert, R-Wash., and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas. It has the support of King and Homeland Security ranking Democrat Bennie Thompson of Mississippi.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.