Sunday, August 29, 2010

A FEMA Leaning Forwards?

Please note that PKEMA 2006 is now extracted from Public Law 109295 and available under legislation on the home page of the blog.
Extract from that extract follows:

(a) IN GENERAL.—The Administrator shall establish a prepositioned equipment program to preposition standardized emergency equipment in at least 11 locations to sustain and replenish critical assets used by State, local, and tribal governments in response to (or rendered inoperable by the effects of) natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters.
(b) NOTICE.—The Administrator shall notify State, local, and tribal officials in an area in which a location for the prepositioned equipment program will be closed not later than 60 days before the date of such closure."

In my time in FEMA, 1979-1999, when visiting regions I found many with sort of amatuerish stockpiles in the Regional Offices. I am assuming that by the time the language above was enacted these stockpiles were somewhat more orderly and well managed but maybe not. The only stockpiled items I knew of were for temporary housing in the form of new or refurbishedd mobile homes, manufactured homes, RVs or whatever. We do know that almost 20,000 of the RV type temporary housing stockpile at one time represented those with identified formaldehyde problems but designed for short term use only and decaying in ARKANSA. Not sure what exactly has happened on this issue. There were also after Hurricane Hugo stockpiles of 10 mil tarping to cover storm damaged roofs. AT one time after the 2004 Hurricanes (4 hit Florida) there were over 50,000 blue roofed Florida houses several years afterwards, and maybe still?

It does seem that Congress gets the fact that FEMA had an ineffective logistics and supply network prior to Hurricane Katrina and it would be interesting to know what beyond generators and tarps and MREs are now stockpiled in these eleven centers assuming they exist. Looking at the FEMA org charts, HQs and Regions it is difficult to be enlightened who has responsibility for these centers and of course the availability of any "operations research" to use that obsolete terminology would be of interest to determine how to develop, implement, and operate these mandated stockpiles.

FEMA by the way in its inception in 1979 had policy level input to the National Defense Stockpile but lost it within months of FEMA's creation due largely to the lack of interest and organization in FEMA to the nuances of this assignment. Congress actually repealed the FEMA authority and mandated a new assignment of the authority in the Executive Branch. In E.O. 12626 it went to DOD with GSA having some role as well as DLA. Then of course FEMA in its assignment to DHS had the National Stockpile authority for medically related items but that has long since been returned to HHS from DHS. So the history of stockpiling and FEMA is not a particulary pretty one and indicates the more technical the subject, FEMA's largely disrespectful attitude to those with technical knowledge has undermined its status within the Executive Branch. This has led, somewhat accurately, to FEMA being labeled the STATE and LOCAL ATM, giving out money and unfortunately not even fulflling its role of giving out accurate information to those impacted by incidents and events. It would be of interest to know exactly how FEMA relates to the National Operations Center in DHS also established by PKEMA 2006.

That stated I have had some personal involvement in the leaning forwards history of FEMA while independent and even today.
First, as background the incident/event involving the core-melt of one of the reactors at Three-Mile Island Nuclear Power Station [TMI] in Harrisburg, PA occurred in the first spring that FEMA was created. Governor Thornberg (sic) later AG of the US did not want a disaster declared and was a very pronuclear fellow. Witness his backing of E.O. 12657 which still exists and assigns FEMA as the safety net for any STATE and LOCAL planning or operational deficinincies in responding to nuclear power station emergencys impacting off-site. So no declaration but expensive setting up costs and other related expenses. There was a shadow evacuation or spontaneous evacuation but no generalized evacuation order given at TMI!
Perhaps not strangely but awkwardly I ran the FIA and Disaster GC ops during the period April 1, 1979, when FEMA opened its doors under E.O. 12127 until September 10, 1979 when officially hired by FEMA. We were housed in HUD OGC and I was later to learn after physical consolidation in the so-called Premier Bldg. [it wasn't] on I street in NW near the White House that most of the FEMA mail, FIA mail, and FDAA mail was discarded by the HUD mail operation that first year. Well hey what can you expect? At anyrate recieved a phone call from FEMA's real GC, George Jett and he said with several hours notice that I was to meet with GAO on an important subject, but when asked what that subject was George said he was not sure. So outnumber 6 to 1 I met with GAO.
The question was a relatively simple one: Could the costs of the predeployment be paid out of the President's Disaster Relief Fund [DRF]? Since the costs were already incurred naturally I took the position that they could be paid out of the DRF. GAO took the opposite position. So these meetings and there were several involved analysis of the Disaster Relief Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-288) as the controlling statute. Well to some degree it ended in a Mexican standoff. GAO found that no difficiency had occurred but strongly suggested statutory clarification. I remember executing a memorandum to the file on those meetings but in transferring to the Premier Bldg lost in translation I guess.

Surprisingly I was again tossed into the fray in early fall 1992 when Patricia Gormley came into my office and said to me I want you to meet with me and GAO. When I asked the subject I was again told, I am not sure. Well one can always ask? Even if not always answered. At anyrate GAO again outnumbered FEMA OGC but at least the GC was present. The subject: Could FEMA fund in advance of a declaration the expenses of leaning forwards and predeploy? This was not really done in Hurricane Andrew but later by Hurricane INIKI it was FEMA policy established by Grant Peterson. Stangely, the FEMA leadership, except for Grant Peterson [the Associate Director for State and Local Programs and Support in the first Bush Administration] took the position that authority was not just absent but barred forwards leaning or deployment and that any delays or misteps in response to Andrew [Does this sound like Katrina?] were because the statute [by then the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, Public Law 100-707)absolutely barred such forwards leaning and deployment. Of course IMO this was not and never was the case. But some language supportive of forwards deployment and leaning oddly had been eliminated from the DRA of 1974 in the enactment of the Stafford Act. Many in FEMA got major awards for their part in seeing through passage of the STAFFORD ACT but rarely do agencies willing agree to compromise their own discretion and legal authority which apparently was done. During this period I was largely absent from HQ's FEMA tilting at the Shoreham Nuclear Power Station windmill on Long Island, NY. Even so I argued again to GAO citing their review of the issue at TMI that legal authority existed to forwards lean almost forever. Oddly supportive of this position I know of several cases where disaster outlays occurred with NO declaration including one mandated by Congress in Kansas when Bob Dole was Majority Leader in the US Senate.

This post was prompted in part by phone conversations with George W. Watson, Acting GC of FEMA from spring 1988 to 1991 and with the agency even longer. George told me that the same issue had arisen in Hurricane Hugo which heavily impacted the US Virgin Islands in 1989 and later impacted the Carolina's including one of my favorite cities, Charleston, S.C.

Well the bottom line is that two continuing themes are revealed by this history. Garbeled though it may be. The Stafford Act was never really amended to clarify the issue but FEMA definitely forward leans now and no one challenges that utilization of its discretion or authority.

And if you notice by reading closely, the language quoted earlier in this post is NOT an amendment of the STAFFORD ACT and is defective from that standpoint. It calls for establishment of the stockpiles but not their utiliztion in any declared or undeclared disaster or emergency. Hey perhaps no one still at home when it comes to statutory construction and review of legislative language in FEMA. I will of course as always copy DHS/OIG and GAO on this post which they can read if they like and really really well past the time when this might be a question. And of course one of the reasons this does NOT amend the Stafford Act is because PKEMA 2006 largely came from the Homeland Security Committee in the House not the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of that chamber. Hey POGO it is not US that is the enemy perhaps but maybe the Congress and its organization that creates these stovepipes. Oh, is it Hurricane Danielle that is pearing round the corner right now?