Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Robert T. Stafford Act

Well the Ranking Minority member on the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King has introduced a bill that would limit the coverage of the Stafford Act to certain types of events, but also includes "Catastrophes"! The bill number is HR5590! I have gone back and provided to a number of hill staff, GAO, the CRS staff, and others some background linkages on application and history of the Stafford Act to catastrophic events. This also includes FEMA history. This bill will go nowhere for now, perhaps some hearings if the majority consent, but basically the Congress is out of time and energy given their efforts so far. It does however reflect the fact that Republicans remain confident they will be in the majority for the 112th Congress, beginning January 3, 2011! If so this bill could well be reintroduced. Desperately needed is an academic style paper or research paper on the struggle to form effective and efficient mobilization in large-scale events. Long ago the Stafford Act was reported as not being implemented by FEMA to deal with catastrophic events. I would be happy to furnish in virtual form some of this history to whomever wants it. It should be made clear however that the struggle to define and deal with "catastrophe" is IMO the wrong paradigm.

First, the Stafford Act is not a comprehensive civil crisis management statute and does not mandate development of a civil crisis management system or chain of command. It does come close to doing that in Title VI which incorporates former language from the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950, Public Law 920 of the 81st Congress.

The basic problem as I see is that the House Homeland Security Committee lacks jurisdiction over the Stafford Act and is what is referred to in Congress as a committee with only secondary jurisdiction. This dooms most Stafford Act changes coming out of that Committee to the interests of the Committee with actual oversight of the STAFFORD ACT, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. They have a bill voted out of committee last November that would amend the STAFFORD ACT but for which no committee print has yet been filed.

The Republicans in Congress, and the Democracts can be expected to conduct substantial committee reorganization in the 112th Congress. Both now seem to recognize the problems but such reorganization is always problmatic.

What does appear to be making its way towards enactment this Congress is new WMD legislation focusing on Bioterrorism. We now have an entirely new stovepipe as HHS and CDC and other HHS components finally understand how willing Congress is to fund Public Health preparedness and response outside of the STAFFORD ACT and outside FEMA and DHS. Well hoping these different cultures can understand each other and pull together but this is shaping up as a classic in bureacracy and likely to leave actual operational and policy resolution capability on the short-end of the stick. That WMD bill is S3249 and the Senate has already passed it and sent it to the HOUSE!