Saturday, July 24, 2010

Federal Response to Catastrophic Events

On December 13, 1985, then US Attorney General Edwin Meese, II, wrote to James C. Miller, III, Director OMB concerning FEMA's role in federal response. At the bottom of the second paragraph of that correspondence appears the following sentence:
"Accordingly, FEMA should be authorized to perform those special Emergency Preparedness and recovery functions not assigned to other Federal agencies and to support the 'several' agencies' implementation of policies established through existing Executive Branch decision-making mechanisms."
The full text of the letter is available on this web blog under FEMA historical materials at top of the home page.
What exactly does this language mean and what was its effect?
As far as the AG was concerned it further explains the position of DOJ on FEMA and law enforcement tasking and roles.

In fact however this language still identifies a continuing problem within the Executive Branch and the assignment of response authority. Here a brief background is essential. In the mid-1950's President Eisenhower commissioned a study conducted by McKinsey and Company that is still one of the seminal reports on Emergency Preparedness [EP] in US history. That report concluded that each President must have the authority to design his EP systems in the way he/she wants. Thus, the McKinsey report concluded that all emergency management authority should be vested directly in the President of the US and he/she could then delegate according to the specific wishes of that President. The result was Reorganization Plan No.1 of 1958, effective July 1, 1958. Eisenhower's Message to Congress on April 24, 1958 transmitting the Reorganization Plan will be made available in the future on this blog. It is instructive even today. That reorganization in my opinion no longer is of legal effect by operation of law. Some may disagree with that conclusion but until the Office of Legal Counsel of DOJ definitely rules it still is occasionally cited as operative.

Since the Eisenhower Presidential Administration Congress typically has continued to honor the McKinsey Study conclusions quite often, but not always. Sometime by intention and sometime almost by accident EP authority has been vested in lower ranking officials of the Executive Branch although usually members of the Cabinet or heads of independent agencies. An example is Title VI of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, Public Law 100-707 as amended by Public Law 103-337.

Back to FEMA and the language in the MEESE correspondence. It is one of the purposes of this web blog to explain both current arrangements for EP, or lack thereof, and how we got there historical. Thus, key Executive Branch organizations will be separately examined. For a quick and dirty look at how EP assignments might be made it is instructive to look at E.O. 12656, issued on November 18, 1988, and amended several times. Its language creates and makes assignments for something called "National Security Emergencies" a term that appears nowhere in the US Code.

More to follow!