Friday, May 28, 2010

FEMA's Identity Crisis

Okay I seem to have overlooked an item in previous posts, specifically the rise to power in FEMA of the so-called operations types. This probably is good in some sense but troubling in others. The failure to resolve the primary roles of FEMA has allowed it to be the catch-all for criticism post event. So now the question, if the Stafford Act is primarily the charter for FEMA, especially post PKEMA of 2006, what does that charter represent or create? Is the "new" FEMA an operations entity, a preparedness entity, a response entity, a recovery entity or perhaps even a mitigation entity? This could be argued a number of ways but what is clear is that while many incidents/events may well be declared a Stafford Act event many will not. President Ronald Reagan, much to FEMA's shock declared a disaster for the sewers of Louisville, KY wherein Ralston Purina dumped Hexane that exploded. It happened to be President Reagans first disaster declaration, and the payments were "subrogated" upon by DOJ and a recovery on behalf of Uncle Sugar accomplished.
First IMO FEMA as an organization is none of the above and all of the above. I know where is the one-handed lawyer when needed.
But here are my arguments. Let's say prior to disaster or emergency declarations or both--FEMA gives out assistance both financial and technical. Or analyzed another way FEMA gives mitigation assistance prior to an event or incident. If funding alone is looked at this role of FEMA's is by an accounting tiny compared to other roles. Let's say the first 120-180 days of a disaster are used as the measuring stick? Even including claims under the NFIP, these outlays for response are usually insignificant to eventual outlays for over the next 5-10 years in some cases. So that leads us to conclude that FEMA is in reality a recovery agency. And that its funding role is paramount. But as pointed in the NAPA February 1993 report that the President gets the FEMA he/she wants--then what does the PRESIDENT want FEMA to be? And of course now as part of DHS, what does the Secretary DHS want FEMA to be?
I would argue that FEMA is not an operational agency, but designed for coordination and collaboration or should be so designed. I also argue that based on weak authority for preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation FEMA is not any of these as its dominant role and culture. So then what do I think FEMA is now, whether new or old?

I have long concluded that FEMA is an information provider and funding mechanism. Neither of these FEMA roles are particularly efficient or effective but none the less that is the case. The concept of the JIC seems sound but as seen in recent events such as the current oil spill, it can be documented that since the advent of 24/7/365 days a year news the WH wants to appear all knowing and capable and in charge. Wow! IN the old days of nuclear war planning it was finally concluded by all that strikes against the leadership of the opponent might just lead to NO ONE CAPABLE of stopping further missile attacks, so that both Russian leadership (Soviet Union) and US concluded don't behead the leadership since the real "winner" in a nuclear war was "who had the most weapons" after the war ended! Hey FEMA for better or worse was once part of nuclear war planning and defense however strange that seems. That role was ended for good by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger who both actually did undertand the theories and paradigms of nuclear war. By the way did you know the "nuclear" option has been discussed with some seriousness as bringing closure on the oil spill? Sorry my sources cannot be revealed.

Okay so with the WH in charge of the accuracy of information and FEMA largely funding disasters over the long term and well after the first 120-180 days and having little technical ability, with no real Commerce Clause regulatory authority but only Tax and Spend Clause (ARticle I section 8) FEMA is just at bottom an administrative and grant making agency. It currently has no really assigned role in civil domestic crisis managment and unlikely to get that while in DHS and its convoluted chain of command. What prompts this post?

Well the non-declaration by the President of the Oil Spill is rapidly bringing to a head the conundrum that is FEMA. FEMA even now has no leadership to wage bureacratic warfare in the convoluted context of the Obama Administration. How will this come out? No one knows! Certainly not the President or the FEMA Administrator.

Well events are in the saddle now and this will be interesting to watch what happens? Both to the Presidency and to FEMA! There is some kind of linkage there but hard to detect or even analyze under current setup. Good luck to both.