Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Disaster Long-term Recovery

From time to time I will express opinions on this blog on issues that require resolution but have not been resolved in my lifetime and perhaps never will be. Some are the so-called "Wicked Problems" of the Public Administration profession.
This post starts with a quote:
Quote from Sec. Chertoff in Interview with Gov. Exec. magazine reporter

NJ: Looking back, how do you rate the effectiveness of the department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in responding to the needs of citizens and businesses affected by the hurricanes in 2005?

Chertoff: "I think that there's one organizational structure change I have begun to talk about. I don't know that FEMA ought to be a reconstruction agency. I think that when you get into a deep, long-standing reconstruction effort, you're beginning to deal with issues like public health, social services, education, and housing policy. Not only are these [multi-agency] issues but they are not necessarily in the skill set of people who are at FEMA, who are really there to give immediate shelter and immediate assistance.

FEMA's core mission is emergency management. It's not reconstruction. We maybe need an agency or a capability to reconstruct. But maybe that should not be in FEMA, or in DHS. Maybe that should be in Health and Human Services or in Housing and Urban Development. I know that's unusual for a secretary to give up something. I just think it's not in the core mission. And that's the one area where I think I would encourage someone to take a look."

Perhaps oddly I agree with former Secretary Chertoff that this issue needs close attention. The public works culture of the Committees with oversight of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act as currently amended is destructive to long term EM IMO [in my opinion]! Why because FEMA is not designed and has never been designed for long term recovery. It is notable that the National Strategy for Long Term Recovery draft of early February has never been finalized and my guess may never be. It was the result of a statutory mandate from August 2007 and of course several years late. Claire Rubin has done an excellent job of pushing recovery analysis and issues in her RECOVERY DIVA blog.
My personal interest in long term recovery is NIL! During 20 years in FEMA I pushed for a statutory deadline for FEMA to be out of each disaster after a maximum of 18 months and to have FEMA and other agencies design a smooth transition effort to other government programs, functions, and activities. Of course this never happened and today over 800 declared disasters are open as STATE and LOCAL governments continue to apply political pressure on FEMA to do those things that those governments never did for themselves. And tragic errors have been made. For example almost 65% of HUD urban renewal grant money went into the nation's flood plains. No one seemed to consider that perhaps the decay in those areas was at least partially due to mother nature. That stated I will leave to others development and discussion of long term recovery. But for once I agree with the Chertoff quote and shows there were glimmers of intelligent life there. Strangely, if the Republicans eventually return to power, Chertoff might just be a great addition to SCOTUS for many complicated reasons. I am sure he regrets leaving his lifetime appointment as a federal circuit judge. And of course, he not Michael Brown should have been fired for the Katrina effort and his buying into the anti-Clinton dialectic over FEMA. But hey there is often some good in all of US.