Senators propose more visible role for FEMA

The Federal Emergency Management Agency would become an independent agency within the Homeland Security Department under a proposal made in the Senate today.

Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, and Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, announced in a joint statement that they want to provide FEMA with rights and protections similar to those of the U.S. Coast Guard, another DHS component.

Under the agreement, the DHS secretary could not reorganize FEMA, alter its workforce, or cut its budget or functions without congressional approval, according to the statement.

FEMA’s administrator would report directly to the DHS secretary but have direct access to the president for emergency management matters, according to the statement. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has similar authority for military matters.

FEMA’s administrator would gain authority to communicate directly with Congress and provide recommendations, according to the statement. The agency’s name would change to the U.S. Emergency Management Authority.

“This bill eliminates FEMA as we know it and replaces it with a stronger organization more accountable to the president and to Congress,” Lott said. “This is a good first step, but we also need to strengthen the Stafford Act to provide better assistance to victims of future disasters like [Hurricane] Katrina.”

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988 governs federal disaster assistance to state and local governments.

The agreement is part of a bill that Collins and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, are scheduled to introduce today, according to the statement.

Collins and Lieberman have called for replacing FEMA with an independent agency with more authority because they are dissatisfied with its response last year to Katrina.

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