Who Owns Weather, the Feds or the States?

"There is no such thing as a Republican or Democratic response to a disaster," Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said . "There is no such thing as a Republican or Democratic response to a disaster," Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said . Seth Perlman/AP file photo

Who is ultimately responsible for disaster relief?

For the governors tasked with holding their states together amid natural disasters, the debate over emergency response is not a partisan struggle—it's about striking the right balance between federal and local responsibility.

"There is no such thing as a Republican or Democratic response to a disaster," Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said at a National Journal State of the States event Monday. "You have to bring all resources to bear at that moment. That's when people really need the government."

Quinn, a Democrat, has made disaster relief and preparedness a major part of his work as governor, and he believes in the importance of every state investing in preparedness and recovery to protect against severe weather. He signed the Illinois Jobs Now! program five years ago, which includes major investment in sustainable infrastructure for this reason.

Quinn, however, is also a strong advocate of federal involvement in battling natural disasters. He is pushing for a change to what he says are unfair regulations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that determine whether a particular area gets federal aid for disaster relief. Currently linked to population, this regulation disadvantages Illinois, which has the densely populated metro area of Chicago but many emptier rural areas around it, Quinn argues.

Yet while Quinn aims to balance local and federal involvement, some experts maintain that states are too dependent on federal aid when it comes to natural-disaster relief.

"There were 95 declarations out of FEMA in 2013, and it was the first time in 16 years when there were less than 100," says Matt Mayer, chief operating officer of the Liberty Foundation of America and a member of the panel at Monday's event. He says the federal share of disaster relief has increased from 5 percent for Hurricane Diane in 1955 to 50 percent for Hurricane Katrina, to 80 percent to Superstorm Sandy. "The federal government is broke; it doesn't have a lot of money [for disaster relief]."

Mayer and other panelists argue that states ought to have more responsibility for covering smaller relief efforts. Federal funding could be used to incentivize states to invest in building and preparedness so that they aren't relying so much on the federal government after disaster strikes.

"They're all trying put their hands out instead [of] up," Mayer says. "This is not a Republican or Democratic issue—Republicans are putting out their hands too."

Finding the balance between local and federal involvement can be a challenge even for FEMA. "I'm not sure it's an incentive issue, so much as a coordination issue sometimes," says Timothy Manning, deputy administrator of the federal agency. While severe weather may require federal relief funds, Manning says the vast majority of disasters never exceed the capacity of state governments.

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.