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FEMA to get expanded

The WP this morning reports this morning that lawmakers reached an agreement on a reorganization of FEMA. Under the plan, FEMA would be expanded and its head would have direct access to the president in times of crisis.

Congress Agrees on Expanding FEMA

The Federal Emergency Management Agency would be expanded within the Department of Homeland Security, and FEMA's chief could obtain direct access to the president in a crisis, under terms of a compromise overhaul of the troubled agency announced last night by congressional negotiators.

Reached one year after Hurricane Katrina triggered a catastrophe on the Gulf Coast and a governmental emergency in Washington, the tentative deal would give the 2,500-worker agency more power to prepare for and respond to future disasters.

But the pact does not clarify whether FEMA would get more money to implement the scores of changes recommended by several post-Katrina reviews.

The whole FEMA issue really perplexes me. Why wouldn't the president -- any president -- want direct access in the event of an emergency? Does that really need to be put into law?

I have continued to argue that FEMA belongs in DHS -- because the organizations should be tied together. In fact, we want FEMA to be a part of homeland security. Just because DHS has largely failed to prioritize emergency management doesn't mean one reorganizes, it seems to me. It means you change ineffective managers.

I remember reading this NYT story from back in April, headlined "FEMA Calls, But Top Job Is Tough Sell." The NYT requires that you subscribe to the paper or pay for archives, but the gist is that many emergency management experts turned down the FEMA job because they just didn't have a sense that the Bush administration cared about emergency management.

Unconvinced that the administration is serious about fixing the Federal Emergency Management Agency or that there is enough time to get it done before President Bush's second term ends, seven of these candidates for director or another top FEMA job said in interviews that they had pulled themselves out of the running.

''You don't take the fire chief job after someone has burned down the city unless you are going to be able to do it in the right fashion,'' said Ellis M. Stanley, general manager of emergency planning in Los Angeles, who said he was one of those called.

Even if you believe that the NYT is a liberal rag out to get the Bush administration, there seems to be outside data that would support this belief.

On this week's cover, we have DHS's brain drain after Scott Hastings announced he was going to leave DHS's US-VISIT program. (BTW, the brain drain is one of my favorite covers.) But this has been a problem for the agency -- and not just for IT jobs.

Again, from the NYT story:

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has acknowledged the difficulty of finding a permanent replacement for Michael D. Brown, who resigned in September after widespread criticism of his management of the response to Hurricane Katrina, and of filling other senior posts at the agency and hundreds of lower-level jobs.

Today, of the 30 most senior jobs, 11 are filled by officials appointed on an acting basis, including the administrators in charge of such critical functions as operations, disaster recovery and disaster response.

''You've got to be able to attract people,'' Mr. Chertoff told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last month. ''And I will not deny that certainly I think when there is a lot of negative publicity, it doesn't make a lot of people want to migrate.''

It was interesting because Jim Williams, who left DHS's US-VISIT program to become the GSA FAS commissioner, speaking at the FedSources breakfast on Friday, noted he was disappointed to see Hastings leave, and he would not say anything negative about the agency. To the contrary, he noted how important DHS's mission is -- and it is. And, as FCW's annual best agency survey always shows, feds are driven by important missions.

I'm not sure there is a conclusion to be made... more just thinking out loud and wondering.

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Sep 16, 2006 at 12:15 PM


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