Agencies should follow FEMA's lead, scholar says

ksaldarini@govexec.com

The once-ridiculed Federal Emergency Management Agency has transformed itself into an organization worthy of imitation, according to a report due to be released this week.

Jerry Ellig, a senior research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, wrote the report as part of the center's public sector leadership project. The project shines a light on successful federal agencies in order to glean lessons on performance improvement. The Mercatus Center works with government leaders and scholars to help put academic theory into practice.

"Lawmakers who once talked of abolishing the agency now compliment it," Ellig writes of FEMA in the report. The agency has reinvented itself through major management reforms since 1993. The kinds of changes FEMA went through are applicable to "an agency seeking to transform itself from a rules-driven bureaucracy to a results-driven organization," the report said.

According to the report, FEMA deserves credit for establishing a clear mission and setting up an organizational structure that helps meet it.

In addition, the agency's information technology systems have been redesigned to be more customer-focused and FEMA has developed communication strategies for each of its stakeholders, including disaster victims, the agency's own employees, Congress and the media.

Ellig credits FEMA Director James Lee Witt for driving the agency's change. Under Witt's leadership, FEMA's culture has become more customer- and results-oriented, and less formal. As a result, FEMA's employees have more intrinsic motivation than financial incentives, the report concludes.

The report will be released Wednesday during a live Internet broadcast at www.mercatus.org, beginning at 9:20 a.m.

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