Between the years 1981 and 1989, the Department of Justice engaged FEMA in full scale bureacratic warfare to prevent FEMA from becoming any kind of funding organization for STATE and Local law enforcement entities. While some may think this is an argument of no consequence let me assure you that it has had huge implications for civil crisis response and recovery in the United States.
The issue began even before the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics where the fallout from the 1972 Munich Olympics terrified the Reagan Administration that a terrorist attack during the games might destroy the Reagan Presidency. Unknow to many President Reagan had created as California Governor something called the California Specialized Training Institue which still exists and is part of the STATE of California educational establishment. Originally designed to provide training to law enforcement personnel for response to riot and civil disorder as evidenced by the San Francisco State riots the organization today provides a variety of services and training to California's large academic and law enforcement institutions and organizatons. William French Smith was Reagan's first AG and because of the efforts of Louis O. Guiffrida, the FEMA Director and his Civil Security unit during the LA Olympic Games, William French SMith wrote a letter which ultimately led to Guiffrida's downfall in the Reagan Administration. He did not go quietly or easily however but was challenged throughout his tenure as Director of FEMA [the longest tenure until Director James Lee Witt survived the entirety of the Clinton Administration.] A letter by AG Smith made public, which has been erroneously labeled as part of an anti-civil defense element in the Reagan Administration had absolutely nothing to do with Civil Defense which had even before the Reagan Administration lost its policy heft in the strategic arena and turned into a generic preparedness grant program by both the Reagan Adminstration [September 1981] and the State and Local governments. The letter indicated that FEMA, a non-cabinet independent Executive Branch agency should never be placed between the President and his cabinet officials in any civil domestic crisis management system. Strangely, no President, even President Obama today, has ever devised a domestic civil crisis management system and chain of command.
My point is simple, however, evidence exists that the Department of Justice has been Janus faced when analyzing the disaster relief legislation of the United States. FEMA actually tried to limit the scope of the Disaster Relief Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-288) when it asked for a statutory state share of disaster outlays in the 1980's. DOJ specically opposed inclusion of the following language in what became the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act: "and based upon the Prsident's determination that Federal assistance under other Federal authorities is not available and adequate to meet all of the emergency needs" which was also supported by the Department of Energy. That language of course never appeared in the final enacted version of the Stafford Act but the DOJ continues to pretend it does exist although it opposed that limitation in passage and enactment of the Stafford Act. Why is this important? Because such a largely legal analysis would creat a major delay in any declaration of a disaster by the President just as in the current BP oil spill and formerly in the EXXON VALDEZ spill.
So DOJ created a new concept of a "Law Enforcement Emergency" see 28 CFR Part 65 in the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1984. The history of that label has yet to be written but would be of great interest. The term was first used believe or not by DOJ when it declared Mt. St. Helens a "Law Enforcement Emergency" even though it had no statutory basis at that time.
And still FEMA has continued to fund from time to time DOJ and law enforcement activities because DOJ continues to underfund and understaff this function. Note the recent DOJ/OIG report on DOJ's lack of interest and preparedness for WMD events.
I noted earlier on this blog that I actually sent a long letter to President George W. Bush's first AG once DHS had been established requesting that an analysis should be made, and made public, as to the role of DOJ and DHS in a WMD incident, and in particular a Bioterrorism incident/event wherein there might in fact be riots or civil disorders. Thanks DHS/OIG and hoping you read this blog.
More on the DOJ war on FEMA later. I have formally requested that the GAO study these issues in an e-mail sent on July 12, 2010!