This blogger has spent considerable effort to document the destruction of FEMA under the Homeland Security Act of 2002 but one final chapter needs recording to end that litany. Of course many say the "New" FEMA has been built and is now tanned, ready and rested and ready to ensure that a successful crisis response to declared Presidential disasters and emergencies occurs. I hope that those commentators and analysts are correct.
Without going into great detail it suffices to state that DHS upon startup had no FEMA, but instead an Emergency Preparedness and Response Director, headed by an Under Secretary, specifically Michael Brown who had been confirmed as Deputy Director of FEMA before its incorporation into DHS. In my writings I state that there was no FEMA from March 1, 2003 until March 31, 2007. Technically that is correct but with two footnotes. First, on August 4, 2003, Michael Brown wrote a memorandum to all FEMA employees (technically there were none) announcing that the FEMA name could be used as part of the DHS operations to refer to the agency (it was in fact a Directorate); to its employees (meaning those of the Emergency Management and Response Directorate)and to FEMA's work (meaning those programs, functions, and activities not transferred out of FEMA after the startup of DHS on March 1, 2003.
Then on April 4, 2006, Secretary Chertoff informed Congress that he was going to implement the Second Stage Review [2SR]that he had informed Congress about in a letter of July 13,2005, and which he stated had been approved by Congress in the Fiscal Year 2006 DHS Appropriations Act. He also stated in his April 4, 2006 letter that he was utilizing the Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response position to create a new Under Secretary for Federal Emergency Management position. This position would report directly to him as Secretary. The 2SR effort also created an Under Secretary for Preparedness but that position was not filled until Decemeber 2006 by the confirmation of George Foresman, previously head of OEM for the Commonwealth of Virginia. This position had a number of the functions originally housed in FEMA. Then of course in fall of 2006 and effective March 31, 2007, the newly enacted law known by the abbreviation PKEMA 2006 re-established a "FEMA" in DHS and at least theoretically prevented tampering by the Secretary DHS under the authority of Section 872 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.
\One point of writing this post of course is to point out that legally there was no FEMA at the time of Hurricane Katrina. The use of the name was not authorized by any statute and in fact it is difficult to prove that Secretary Ridge even approved the usage for anything other than using up old stationary. Still FEMA took the rap for Katrina. The bottom line is that the "New" FEMA has achieved some stability and in fact is much larger in staffing than ever in the new FEMA or old FEMA's entire history. Whether the status of training and experience matches the need is yet to be determined.
FEMA as an independent agency did survive some scrapes merely because it was so small its officials and employees, largely housed in one facility in DC could see and talk to each other on a daily basis. On cigarette breaks and coffee breaks if nothing else. And after James Lee Witt became Director and 50% of the personnel no longer has clearances open channels of communication also were fostered.
Because communication, collaboration, and cooperation are so important to EM generally and FEMA in particular it would be nice to know that the "New" FEMA has facilitated such in its operations. Time will tell.
Oh, and did I mention that the former Independent FEMA Director job was a ES-II PAS and all positions heading FEMA since March 1, 2003 have been ES-IV PAS jobs or lower. Well clout in Washington is measured in many ways but this diminishment alone means that the counterparts in other Executive Branch departments and agencies would no longer be automatically the Secretary of Departments or their Deputies, or the heads of the independent agencies. Now the collateral interchange would be throught the Assistant Secretary level. This alone renders unlikely FEMA having established "Clout" relationships prior to a large-scale unplanned incident/event whatever the status conveyed by PKEMA 2006.
And I may be wrong about this but absent a "Plumb Book" hard t tell exactly what the FEMA Adminstrator's Rank is and when and if I find out will correct this post. Perhaps it is an ES-III PAS.