House panel signals opposition to dismantling FEMA

A Senate committee recently recommended completely overhauling the agency and giving it a new name.

The House Homeland Security Committee is weighing a legislative proposal aimed at bolstering the Federal Emergency Management Agency rather than dismantling it as the panel's Senate counterpart has recommended.

A Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee investigation rapped FEMA officials for mismanagement, waste and susceptibility to fraud after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, and recommended the agency be renamed and reorganized.

The starkest contrast between the legislation being considered by the House committee and recommendations made elsewhere in Washington revolves around what would be done with FEMA as it is restaffed and, possibly, given closer proximity to the president in a time of crisis. House Homeland Security Committee members said the agency needs a direct line to the White House and more staff, but not a complete overhaul.

"It would take up so much time to reorganize," said Rep. Norman Dicks, D-Wash., at a hearing Tuesday.

"This is not a rebranding issue," said Eric Holdeman, director of the emergency management office of King County, Wash. "We need to fix the FEMA product, not the FEMA name."

House committee members were unified in their call for keeping FEMA under the Homeland Security Department, and most said they support having the agency respond to both manmade and natural disasters.

"We need an all-hazards approach," said committee member Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas.