Monday, September 20, 2010

How to Reform the "New FEMA"!

Okay a strong component of self-promotion in this posting. Why? Well although had to be satisfied in winning sometimes less than 10% of my initiatives while in FEMA from 1979-1999 and probably that is on the high side I did feel I accomplished certain things during that period. First, I helped keep FEMA independent.

Second, I at least helped preserve the option of keeping FEMA a learning organization and somewhat creative bureacratically.

Third, I helped upgrade the general competence of the Office of the General Counsel of FEMA, although my proposal to only hire former JAG officers and lawyers with technical understanding and expertise was largely ignored.

Fourth, to the extent that FEMA was ever proactive with Congress helped accomplish that effort. Fifth, helped quell the anti-FEMA attitudes at DOJ and DOJ and NRC and DOE and EPA and HHS. All to be explained later and in some length.
But that is background. Now FEMA must take certain steps to avoid further drift into irrelevance both within DHS and within the Executive Branch generally, and to avoid helping to destroy STATE and LOCAL capability in EM generally, and in particular Mitigation.

What must be done, now?

First, FEMA is ineffectively organized and ofter components often operate at cross purposes. Under PKEMA 2006 it can have four Deputy Administrators in addition to an Administrator, all at the PAS level and in addition has a PAS US Fire Adminstrator. My count may be off but looks like five or 6 PAS positions in FEMA. A substantial number for an organization that even counting all FTE, permanent part-times, and temporary employees under various schemes has less than 10,000 employees of various kinds. These need to be arranged to place emphasis on the FIRE SERVICE, then a leader for preparedness, prevention, protection, mitigation, and resilience. This leader would be one of two that have technical knowledge to bring to bear from many disciplines on FEMA's programs, functions, and activities. Then a leader for the Science and Engineering and technical aspects of EM. This job will be primarily helping to conduct research and helping integrate that research into FEMA programs, functions, and activities. Third, a financial assistance directorate that will also include grants, contracting, and procurement and other ways to furnish goods, services, and funding to all of FEMA's clients and grantees. Fourth, a FEDERAL PROGRAMS interface leader that will have a staff devoted to making sure that other departments and agencies understand how FEMA programs, functions, and activities operate and are implemented and making sure that no duplication or overlap exists with other federal programs,functions, and activities. All other components of the existing FEMA can report through one of these leaders.

Second! The Office of the Chief Counsel must undergo some expansion but more important it cannot continue to undermine FEMA programs, functions, and activities by constantly reviewing FEMA authority to determine not what discretion has been granted, but where that discretion is not specifically guided by a statutory mandate. Basically the lawyers are killing the new FEMA.

Third, the legislative review function of FEMA needs substantial upgrade. This is where FEMA comments on other federal legislation or actions that require statutory change and FEMA history is one of being oppositional to change rather than encouraging and promoting change.

Fourth, FEMA needs to more closely analyze the capabiity of STATE and LOCAL governments, if necessary tiering the state and locals based on capabilities and threats or hazards so that limited FEMA funding can help 2nd and 3rd tier state and local governments to become 1st tier in resilience and capability.

Fifth, the policy formulation, implementation, and operations in FEMA need substantial upgrade. This could be done by first examining how FEMA collects its various statistical theory and then hiring policy statiticians to determine what is not being collected of importance and why and what should be collected and why and this technical capability should be focused in the policy shops at FEMA. The statistical value of collection, analysis, and dessimination is almost totally without value to FEMA management.

Sixth, the Regional Offices need a substantial upgrade and this included adequate delegations. Such a delegation package was furnished by me to all key elements of FEMA in the 1997-98 time frame including the current DHS OIG Rick Skinner, whose delegations from the Secretary DHS are deficient, and also to all FEMA components and leadership. These need to be resurrected. James Lee Witt did not want detailed delegations because he feared that would yield power to those delegated. Even though it was explained that delegations did NOT preclude his exercisisng authority he continued to believe that written delegated authority would undermine his leadership.

Seventh, more technical and scientific talent needs to be brought into FEMA. When I arrived in 1979 there were almost 300 PhDs and when I left in 1999 less than 50. Why? FEMA needs many specialists including anthropologists, seismologists, meterologists, vulcanologists, coastal experts, including soils experts and many many others.

Please remember that my view of FEMA differed from many others. I largely saw FEMA as a technical and scientific agency and using its funds to prevent and protect to the extent possible STATE and LOCAL and NGO decision making that increased the liklihood of disasters payouts. Thus, FEMA was to reduce disaster outlays by its programs, functions, and activities not by its actions increase outlays. It has really largely become an ATM for the STATE and LOCAL governments who are continually allowed to manipulate FEMA programs, functions, and activities to undermine their basic purposes. As a starter you could look at the requirements in the NFIP and Stafford Act for STATE and LOCAL governments to buy insurance to reduce federal disaster outlays. And of course duplication of benefits and enforcement of the STATE cost sharing provisions has been largely ignored and such efforts understaffed and underfunded.

And in a later post will explain why the Science Committees of the HOUSE and SENATE should have a much greater oversight role over FEMA programs, functions, and activities.