On December 13, 1985 the Attorney General of the United States wrote the most important letter about FEMA's role in EM and the Executive Branch and decided its fate as reflected in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security 16 years later. The letter can be found at the following URL:
The letter committed the Reagan Administration and all later Administrations to ensuring that FEMA's collaborative and cooperative portfolio largely through funding of mission assignments to other federal agencies and grants to the States would have a secondary role in EM and in reality be subject to the whims of mother nature and catastrophic human caused or exacerbated events but be without the operational and logistics and legal authority or adequate staff to deal with those events and in particular when of a catastrophic nature. Thus, the performances in Hurricane Andrew (1992) and Katrina (2005) were foreordained because of the lack of foresight and petty bureacratic jealousies of the Department of Justice and its various Attorney Generals. Other documentation for this rivalry exists but the letter referred to above is the best single example.
It would have been one thing to draw the lines bureaucratically and intellectually between LAW ENFORCEMENT and EM but in fact relying on the ability of all federal Executive Branch organizations to perform an expanded role in catastrophic situations but not fund, staff, or give them adequate legal authority or systems to do so is in fact tragic for the American people. Little though has been given to this extremely important issue as even today the Obama Administration has failed to develop a domestic civil crisis management system or chain of command and thus continues to put the Nation at risk of having a militarized response to domestic catastrophes.
The bottom line is that Executive Branch organizations do what they can do, are asked to do on a day to day basis, and what they are funded and authorized to do. We are now witnessing in the GOM the totally inadequate response offered under the National Contingency Plan [40 CFR Part 300] wherein with the US Coast Guard as Incident Commander it is now increasing faced with issues of on-shore impacts of the BP catastrophe including economic impacts and social and psychological impacts. The NCP is totally inadequate for these concerns and IMO has already demonstrated that fact as the Administration relies on a BP fund that will really only be fully implemented by the end of 2013 to fund damage and loss claims arising from their negligence.
Yet both the Administration and Congress are betting their will be a BP around and that organizations other than FEMA can gear up for this largest environmental disaster in world history other than drought and that reliance is totally appropriate and adquate. I respectfully disagree.
The missions, programs, functions, and activities of each Executive Branch component need critical analysis to determine how they can be surged, mobilized, staffed, funded, and equipped and trained if the December 13th Meese letter is controlling federal EM policy, which I believe it is still doing. Perhaps reading the letter might well be categorized as the US being lead and traveling over last three decades on a "Ship of Fools"!
The Department of Justice is still so enamored by its litigation skills and ability to recover funds from those negligent in this catastrophe that it refuses to recognize the readily apparent limitations of the US legal system in catastrophic events. Worse is that it prevents those who can help from helping.