Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Does FEMA have WH Clout?

There is a little game in Washington called "Clout and FACETIME"!  The first refers to Presidential assignments directly to an organization and the second to the amount of time that the head of a department or agency, whether or not independent, gets to meet with and brief the President. The CIA for example is still hurting desperately from elimination from the so-called DAILEY BRIEF of INTEL for the President now accomplished by the DNI! The first factor is based on how skilled, competent and flexible the department or agency is in the mind of the President and the willingness to take on a new task perhaps not defined by any Authorization Statute or Appropriation.

The one classic example in FEMA's history of course was the assignment by press release by President James Earl Carter of off-site saftey of nuclear power plants in December 1979 after both the Kemmeny [not the Ayatollah but the President of Dartmouth College] and the Rogovin Report suggested off-sight safety be removed from NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission]! My recommendation would have been to move it to EPA but hey I was not asked. We have now learned that long before TMI in late March 1979 that developing core-melt accident was not the first consideration given to giving the then new FEMA the role. In fact it was considered formally by the President's Reorganization Project Team, headed by Nye Stevens, later a GAO Officer Director, and then postponed for some later time. Little did those deciding on postponement know that the first core-melt reactor accident in US history was about to occur.
Continuing with the theme of this post. The only oddball but perhaps substantial assignment given to FEMA since its incorporation into DHS by the President was the assignment by the President for a prepatory role for FEMA for shore based impacts of the BP catastrophe. Of course no STAFFORD ACT declaration has ever occurred for that event nor has the US government yet filed suit against BP for any reason for that spill. So readers of this blog can weigh their own opinion as to the significance.

At any rate I know of NO other Presidential assignments directly to FEMA since March 1, 2003 when DHS was formed. What I am beginning to find really remarkable is how few Presidential assignments to DHS have occurred since the start of the second Bush term, even including absence of DHS from some laundry list type Executive Orders where I thought mention of DHS was appropriate, or where new Homeland Security Presidential Directives required a DHS mention just to avoid bureacratic confusion. I will leave to others to study the correctness of this conclusion.

While I am at it, "it" being Presidential assignments, one concerning FEMA as safety net on nuclear power offsite planning, Executive Order 12657 issued on November 18, 1988, has never been revoked or amended even though its legal basis is doubtful, not least because of its citation to the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950, as amended, Public Law 920 of the 81st Congress, which was repealed by Public Law 103-337 in 1994.

A brilliant article on offsite PARs has just been published in the third issue of a BEPRESS Journal concerning Risk Management and concerning the "you can run but you cannot hide" issue that impacted the Shoreham/Seabrook liscensing proceedings before NRC and that caused huge disruption to me personally as most of the work was done outside of DC on those proceedings. Actually the issue is more accurately described as "shelter versus evacuation"!

Another article in that same journal brilliantly describes the difficulties in planning and preparedness for evacuations, especially for those of the  hosting communities.

Let us count the ways that DHS and FEMA count in the favor of this President who thought so little of the discussion of FEMA's role and independence that no published document exists as to the reasons for nonreview [actually was reveiwed quite a lot by the WH] or at least concluding that FEMA in DHS was a non-issue.

Well Mr. President, as the 1993 NAPA report "Coping with Catastrophe" points out each President gets the FEMA it wants, not necessarily of course what it needs. President Bush got the FEMA he wanted but unluckily for him he got Hurricane Katrina also. Well some are lucky. No landfalling hurricanes so far this year in US with formal Hurricane Season about to end in ten days.