Witnesses back efforts to make FEMA an independent agency

Emergency management experts Thursday said they agree with a push by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leaders to make the Federal Emergency Management Agency independent, citing numerous shortcomings in its ability to operate effectively.

During a hearing on FEMA, the panel largely served to underscore Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar's efforts to remove FEMA from the Homeland Security Department. Oberstar introduced a bill in February that would make FEMA an independent, Cabinet-level agency reporting directly to the president. Oberstar noted that he had fought efforts by the Bush administration to include FEMA in Homeland Security when the department was created in 2002. Oberstar said at the hearing that he warned at the time that the department would "move people out of FEMA, money out of FEMA."

"It is unfortunate that what we predicted came true," said Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member John Mica, who has co-sponsored Oberstar's bill. Mica and the witnesses highlighted the well-publicized problems FEMA had in responding to 2005's hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Witnesses noted that resources and staff have been shifted out of FEMA and into other DHS functions and said the current structure stifles FEMA's decision-making by requiring input from DHS officials. Larry Larson of the Association of State Floodplain Managers noted that the agency's focus has shifted to terrorism preparation and away from hazard mitigation. Despite these problems, lawmakers and some witnesses praised President Obama's pick to head FEMA, Craig Fugate, who most recently headed Florida's disaster relief agency. He was confirmed this week to his post.

While supportive of Oberstar's bill, emergency management consultant Jerome Hauer said he disagreed with the lawmaker's call to remove the terrorism response function from FEMA, saying "emergency management is emergency management" whether it's natural or man-made. He said a transition group would need to be put in place to support FEMA as it makes the transition back to an independent agency or the effort will fail.

Despite the well-publicized problems with FEMA, Oberstar and others noted that they face an uphill battle to remove FEMA from DHS. While FEMA officials were not at the hearing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said this week that the Obama administration believes FEMA should remain part of the department. Still, Oberstar said his committee would move his legislation this year.

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 GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


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