Davis co-sponsors FEMA reform

A group of House members today introduced legislation that would remove the Federal Emergency Management Agency from the Homeland Security department and restore it to its earlier status as a Cabinet-level agency.

Four Republicans and two Democrats spoke on behalf of the bipartisan legislation at a brief news conference at the Capitol. They argued that putting FEMA into DHS has led to a drain on both money and talented personnel for the agencies as those resources get diverted into other Homeland Security needs. In addition, the FEMA director no longer has a direct line to the Oval Office, and FEMA's sluggish and confused response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 showed the need for that top-level access, the lawmakers said.

The bill is titled the Restoring Emergency Services to Protect Our Nation From Disasters Act, or RESPOND.

Davis said that June 1 marks the start of the new Atlantic hurricane season. "This FEMA restructuring will not be implemented until after this storm season, but you've got to start somewhere," he said.

Commenting on the diversion of FEMA resources, Davis said, "FEMA was slowly bled to death by its siblings in an organization predominantly occupied with terrorism," he said.

"FEMA just became a shell of itself" when it was placed under DHS, said Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), another supporter of the legislation.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), another co-sponsor, said some members of Congress favor leaving FEMA where it is, but "simply retooling FEMA will not solve the problem," he said. "We know what the solution is. What we need now is the political will to act."

The members of Congress said they hope to get the House to act on the bill within a few weeks.

However, opposition to the plan comes from some powerful members of Congress as well, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), ranking minority member of that committee.

In a joint statement issued today directly opposing the RESPOND legislation, the senators argued that FEMA as part of DHS has strengths that FEMA as a stand-alone agency would lose.

"Removing FEMA from DHS would needlessly sever its ties with key Department assets such as the Coast Guard, law enforcement officers and communications capabilities, and create confusion for state and local officials," they wrote.

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