IG: FEMA should stay in DHS

The Obama administration should resist renewed calls to remove the Federal Emergency Management Agency from the Homeland Security Department, according to a new report from the DHS Inspector General's office.

The IG noted that, on March 1, 2003, the new department opened its doors and combined 22 agencies, including FEMA, which had previously been a stand-alone agency. FEMA became the subject of intense national controversy for its performance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“Have things gone perfectly since?” asks the IG report, titled “FEMA: In or Out.” “Clearly, the answer is no, but that is not enough justification to undertake a major reorganization that would have far-reaching effects, particularly before a careful study of the potential consequences can be carried out,” the report states.

Congress continues to debate the proper role of FEMA. In December 2008, Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, reopened the discussion by submitting a memo to the White House that recommended FEMA be reinstated as an independent agency.

Two days later, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, urged that FEMA stay in DHS.

Questions that should be considered include FEMA’s jurisdiction with regard to other federal agencies; how responsibility for new or emerging threats should be assigned; if it's advisable to distinguish between natural and manmade threats; what's meant by “all hazards” preparedness; the relationship between crisis management and consequence management; and what the relationships should be among federal, state and local government during and after a disaster, the IG's report states.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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