Where's FEMA?

June 22, 2010 - 4:28 AM
If ever there was a Federal Emergency in need of Management, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill sponsored by BP would be it, and you might think that FEMA would be involved.
The actual name of FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It is an agency within the Department of Homeland Security the head of which is Secretary Janet Napolitano.
 
If ever there was a Federal Emergency in need of Management, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill sponsored by BP would be it, and you might think that FEMA would be involved.
 
One of the many things in which I am not an expert is the span of FEMA's authority and responsibilities. Let's go back to the FEMA web page and see what it says:
 
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.
 
FEMA employees are not all sitting in their cubicles searching for porn much as, for example, some employees of the Minerals Management Service were found to have been doing. In 2010, the FEMA web page shows, the agency has responded to, helped people recover from and mitigated the hazards associated with 47 declared disasters mostly dealing with flooding, tornadoes, and other natural episodes.
 
None were in or near the Gulf of Mexico.
 
In all of 2009 there were only 59 declared disasters so FEMA has been pretty busy.
 
A search of the FEMA.gov website shows the most recent activity in Louisiana was:
Disaster Number 1863: Severe Storms, Tornadoes, and Flooding; 12/10/2009
 
Those storms affected parishes (Louisiana's term for counties) in the northern portion of the state.
 
The only element of FEMA's webpage dealing with the oil spill in the Gulf is a button labeled "Oil Spill Guidance." Clicking on that button brings up a window which says:
"If you have been affected by the oil spill go to www.disasterguidance.gov for assistance."
 
Clicking on that button … but, I think you're beginning to see the same pattern I saw: In what is being called the "greatest environmental disaster in the history of the United States" the agency which is statutorily charged with the task of managing the Federal response is nowhere to be found.
 
According to the American Planning Association, FEMA's budget for Fiscal Year 2010 is just shy of $5.5 billion
 
It might be that FEMA only gets involved if blue tarp is needed to cover the roofs of damaged buildings. If that's the case, we should turn that activity over to Home Depot which is where FEMA probably buys it from in the first place.
 
I know I'm being unfairly snarky about FEMA and the people who work there. During my brief association with FEMA in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, I wrote about the fact that the day-to-day people who make up FEMA spend their days helping people whose lives have been seriously disrupted or utterly destroyed.
 
Brownie notwithstanding, I was, and remain, impressed with people - cops and firefighters included - who choose that path as a career.
 
However … we are spending $5.5 billion on FEMA and, if the agency is not authorized, not qualified, and/or not equipped to be in charge of a disaster then perhaps a good re-think is in order before the FY 2011 appropriation is adopted.
 
The Coast Guard, until recently under the direction of Adm. Thad Allen, also is an agency under DHS. Maybe looking at what the Coast Guard is doing, that FEMA is not doing, will not, or cannot do, would help redeploy DHS resources to be more efficient and more effective.
 
Speaking of which, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano hasn't been seen or heard from in about a month, a quick Google search showed. Her last official pronouncement appears to have been on May 18 - less than a month after the BP well blew out - when, according to a Washington Times account, she told a Senate panel that "plugging the blown-out oil well in the Gulf of Mexico could take weeks."
 
Oh. So, that's why we haven't heard from her recently.
 
At a time when governments at every level are awash in red ink, we need to be smarter about the money we are spending and honest about whether we are spending it wisely.
 
FEMA might be a good place to start.
 
On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Loads of links today - FEMA and Coast Guard web pages; an analysis of the FEMA budget, the MULLINGS from Katrina, and the link to Napolitano's testimony about how long this was going to take. Also, a Mullfoto of President Obama at the Nationals game on Friday and a dreadfully insensitive Catchy Caption of the Day.