Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Drift to Irrelevancy? Is that FEMA's FATE?

Well this is certainly an odd post. I turn 68 years old today and 14 years has passed since my first ever PSA reading which was a 19 and climbed eventually to 95! Eight biopsies later cancer detected both lobes, Gleason 6-7! Hey radiation and hormone therapy and still here. That personal diagnosis and timeline is an interesting one to use as measuring stick for FEMA. Why? Hopefully this post will explain.

In April 1994 FEMA was riding high after focusing on natural disasters which had been ordered in writing under the NSEC issued in January 1988 by President Reagan and through MEESE Memorandum. Copies available from several sources including this blog under my so-called White Paper Histories of both FEMA and technological emergencies, and FEMA and National Security Emergencies. That REAGAN order still observed de facto if not de jure was reinforced when President William Jefferson Clinton, ignoring the first WTC bombing in early 1993, told new Director James Lee Witt to focus on Natural disasters. Some would say of course that man's intersection of the built environment with mother nature's own approach is not in anyway a "Natural" disaster.

Well Bill Clinton and James Lee Witt lucked out. With a full 12 weeks notice the upper MISSISSIPPI and MISSOURI flooding of June-July 1993 proved that FEMA could work in particular when given full backing by the White House. Even better in January 1994, the Northridge Earthquake which among other things destroyed over 400 schools, and severely damaged several hospitals saw FEMA shining again. At least in the best equipped, trained, and staffed EM operation in the United States with a pretty heavy focus on guess which hazard--Earthquakes?

So the NAPA "Coping With Catastrophe" report conclusion that President's largely get the EM operations they want left FEMA king of the heap and definitely labeled a success. Then of course the Murrah Building Bombing in Oklahoma allowed FEMA to shine again especially its SAR operation which had almost been ended by bureaucratic infighting six weeks earlier. Even the law enforcement response was largely funded by FEMA a funding with which I strongly disagree even as to its legality. But hey the SAR teams shined, and again a geographically confined event without massive disruption of governmental response and communications allowed a steady and important niche in FEMA's gun.

The post-MURRAH Building follow up has however led to a long term FEMA drift, highlighted in most minds by the Katrina event which will be blogged about in detail later and is still being studied.

President Clinton and his NSC staff drafted PD-39 which tried to bridge the gaps between the statutory mandates of what eventually saw fruition as the Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction Act embedded as Title XIV of the 1996 Defense Authorization better known as Nunn-Lugar. Domenici added as its anti-proliferation approach expanded. PDD-39 was shown to James Lee Witt by a key SES staffer whose history in the civil service rose from a low-level in FPA one of the predecessor agencies to a Career SES job. Probably the best example ever in FEMA of a skilled briefer arriving at a key position which then required good decision-making skills and not up to the task.

That document, also available from this blogger attempted to delineate the Crisis Response and Consequence Management roles between DOJ/FBI and FEMA. Because its full implications were not realized by the Director and his immediate staffers, the draft was approved. When signed by the President and FEMA ordered in writing by the President to do certain things the Director said NO not unless more staff and more money. Always a good strategy unless you fail to understand that certain decision points may be not long lasting as for options but have catastrophic effects. Once that additional staffing and funding argument was locked in it had disastrous impacts on any trying to make FEMA an all-hazards agency, including consequences of terrorism, that function having been assigned to FEMA in Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978.

The bottom line is that the position of FEMA on PD-39 including STATE and LOCAL training had the consequence that both Congress and the WH and NSC started to construct workarounds the FEMA position. That led to the DOD being assigned for 3 years the STATE and LOCAL interface role for WMD training for response, even though DOD itself was not much further along than FEMA in its ability to do so, inspite of vast differences in funding, staffing and bureaucratic creativity. The other consequence is that various Commissions that began grinding away on domestic terrorism and WMD response in the late 1990's were often mislead by the written documents assigning FEMA various functions and activities that it choose largely to not perform and twisted the findings of those Commissions. More of this later. At anyrate the downward drift of being a player for a big role, bigger funding, and even bigger staffing when to bureaucratic enterprises with more talented leadership, even when FEMA's tradition leadership role with the STATE and LOCALs was encroached upon.