Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Organization of FEMA Regions

In October 2009 NAPA released a report on organization of the FEMA regions. NAPA of course is the National Academy of Public Administration which conducts its studies at the behest of the Congress and is also funded by appropriations usually through a specific department or agency. To my knowledge several NAPA reports have been conducted through FEMA. First and most important was the "Coping with Catastrophe" report released in February 1993. Then FEMA also conducted a report on the role of the National Guard in its mission support role to the states in about 1994. And now this most recent effort.
Why write about the FEMA regions at all? When FEMA was an independent agency the quality of the political appointees at the Regional Director postion was questionable. In my 20 years of FEMA, of over 100 regional directors politically appointed over 1/3 were dismissed for a variety of reasons unrelated to their parties defeat in national elections. Five (5) Carter RD's sued to keep their jobs when fired by President Reagan on the basis that they were not political appointees. That alone should indicate their competency to be RD's since Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978 had specifically concluded that they were to be non-career Presidential appointees although not requiring Senate Advise and Consent.
Because of my long standing interest in the subject of delegations of legal authority dictated by both administrative law requirements and SCOTUS rulings I found interesting that delegations to the Regions were uniformly inadequate. In fact that inadequacy led to a major RIF (Reduction in Force) run by OPM in 1983 and 1984 on all FEMA regions. Basically HQs FEMA argued that the regions had little real authority or role and therefore allowed the Regions to be largely destroyed until the James Lee Witt period as Director.
I spent a major effort in time in the mid-90's trying to update the entirety of FEMA's delegations, including the Regions. This was accomplished but never published and sat finally over a year on the dest of the FEMA Chief of Staff without being published in the Federal Register as required by the Administrative Procedure Act of 1947 and the Federal Register Act of 1934. In the last year FEMA did publish updated delegations which have substantial errors and nothing with respect to the regions.

By the way the 2009 NAPA report in its section II from page 35-40 does a nice job of summarizing the PKEMA mandates and accurately indicates almost all have failed to be finalized.

So why discuss the FEMA Regions, 5 of which are headed by non-career employees and 5 by career Acting employees. These are not career reserved positons but are techically dual positions meaning that now as opposed to the days FEMA was under the charter of Reorganization No. 3 of 1978 are no longer mandated to be political appointees. That reorganization plan, which is constantly cited by Congress and FEMA and DHS as in effect, was superseded as a matter of law by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 which while a functional transfer also ended FEMA's status as an independent agency and eliminated all PAS (Presidentially Appointed Senate Confirmed) positions then in FEMA {their were eleven (11) at the time FEMA was roled into DHS.

Because the FEMA Regions existed and were led by politicals prior to DHS they had some status in the political scene of DHS. NO other predecessor organization except the US Coast Guard had true Regional Offices but FEMA except many did have a variety of Field Organizations, e.g. TSA which had staff in all major airports.

There was a statutory mandate in the Homeland Security Act to develop, implement, and operate DHS regions that has been ignored by all three lawyers appointed and confirmed as Secretary DHS so far. The field operations of federal departments and agencies are in fact loaded with political landmines of various kinds, not the least the fact that key Senator's believe they must be consulted on appointments of politicals in their states whether or not they require Senate Confirmation.

The basic conundrum for FEMA in its regional ops is whether these fixed locations should be purely administrative centers or actually part of the federal response to domestic disasters and emergencies. Since the creation of the FCO (Federal Coordination Officer) concept in the Disaster Relief Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-288) these FCO's patterned on the first federal FCO Frank Carlucci, at the time an Assistant Director of OMB, who operated during Tropical Storm Agnes and who actually fired a Cabinet Secretary, George Romney at DHUD, and was backed by President Nixon, was designed to force collaboration and/or cooperation among the disparate Executive Branch organizations to execut the President's will. It should alway be remembered of course that the statutory mandates including the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act codified at 42 USC Section 5121 and following vest authority directly in the President, or substantially so, and no in so-called "inferior" Executive Branch Officials.

The result is that no Director or Adminstrator of FEMA and no subordinate of them has truly understood how the FEMA Regions and FCO's should operate when both exist. Oddly even NAPA missed out on this relationship as being key in domestic crisis management.

Oddly the current IG of DHS and his Deputy both were once in the independent FEMA, one as Deputy IG FEMA and one as Chief Financial Officer, and both had my draft delegations in hand, but neither has followed up on correction of this very important deficiency in adminstration in DHS and FEMA.

Hey, governance is tough work and the devil is in the details.