Wednesday, June 23, 2010

FEMA Unfinished Business

In February (the 5th I believe) FEMA published a National Disaster Recovery Strategy draft document. Strangely this document and effort goes back to mandates as earlier as 2007 from the Congress. At the end of February a six page letter from the Chair and Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee was sent to the Secretary DHS with critical comments.

As of this point in time, it appears that the document is indefinitely delayed. Just as the Department failed to accomplish what was statutorily mandated for the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review also issued in February and with promises of supplemental reporting that has not been accomplished.

My guess is that negotiations between DHS and HUD over the Recovery Strategy are holding up issuance of the final final recovery strategy.

The real crux of recovery has come down to housing issues. So here is my quick and dirty history of that problem. Before FEMA there was the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration in HUD put there by Presidential Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1973. In a famous and seminal transmittal transmission to Congress, the Nixon Administration issued what has become known to history as the Carlucci Report [the first really effective FCO in disaster history--appointed by Nixon when he was an Associate Director of OMB-and of course later Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan] that report largely ducked dealing with housing issues letting to HUD to straighten out its policies. Just as FEMA is now housed as a subordinate component of DHS, FDAA was housed as a subordinate component of HUD. The tensions and rivalries of HUD and FDAA clearly were just as vicious and tense if not more so than those between FEMA and DHS. Because FDAA has been part of the Executive Offices of the President [WH] the close relationships of the FDAA senior staff was still very close to and capable of using their contacts to keep that organization relatively intact and powerful even while in HUD. But what is interesting is that the so-called Emergency Housing program not housing issues or expertise generally were in fact the province of FDAA. Part of the placement in HUD had occurred because of the housing issues arising out of Tropical Storm Agnes in the Lycoming Valley of Pennsylvania and in fact resulted in Carlucci with President Nixon's approval firing a Cabinet Secretary George Romney over the failure of HUD to deal with emergency housing issues.
What is clear is that Secretary of HUD Patricia Roberts Harris found completely distasteful the whole emergency housing portfolio and made her support for the Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978 that created FEMA conditional on FEMA taking the emergency housing function from HUD. A HUD official and also an FDAA offical who was very very capable and intelligent although somewhat authoritarian in his management style led the Emergency Housing Program throughout FDAA existence in HUD from July 1, 1973 to July 15, 1979.

Well times move on. Basically as is now well known and well documented elsewhere HUD has largely failed in its mission to provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing to the nation. Captured by middlemen/women HUD is largely managed for those who profit off of HUD's programs and lack of staffing and funding. One major success, opposed bitterly originally by the industry, was the federal regulation of manufactured housing which occurred in 1974. The Katrina formaldehyde trailers were in fact RV's not truly subject to the manufactured housing regulatory scheme which dealt with formaldehyde issues early on and almost continuously.

So with a national shortage of low cost housing and much of the real housing financing done by virtue of the mortgage deduction [which is not capped but clearly should be in the Internal Revenue Code] the basic mission of housing the people of the US is in a mess. Abandoned homes, foreclosed homes, homes that meet no decent, safe, sanitary standard aboud. I myself am restoring at great personal effort and cost a house abandoned for almost 20 years. Houses IMO constantly need TLC and without it soon decline.

The bottom line in all this is that just with Public Health being assigned to HHS, energy issue lead to DOE, use of the Armed Forces to DOD, emergency housing should be formally assigned to HUD and the Housing Acts appropriately amended. What should also be noted is that HUD is overseen by the Banking Committees and they also control the National Flood Insurance Program. HUD should get housing and NOAA should get the NFIP. The Banking Committee has long ignored its responsibilities in the housing sector given the huge issues of refugees and migration raised by disasters. Evacuation as a premise and protective action recommendation is based on the "return" of those evacuated. We now know with a vengence that housing often precludes that "retrun" and perhaps like the Dust Bowl in the 30's another large internal migration is about to be sparked by the continuing BP Oil Spill. And by the way the Science Committees in House and Senate should be giving oversight to the NFIP because it is largely a science and engineering driven program and not a housing or banking program because it is in fact a land use program not an insurance program.

Any how perhaps this explains some of the current failure to adopt a National Disaster Recovery Strategy in final form.

And did I mention that the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act does NOT define "recovery"!