Thursday, January 20, 2011


Bills are going to be introduced this week in both House and Senate to indicate how the Republicans in Congress would capture $2.5 Trillion in reductions to the federal budget. Probably will not go anywhere. But one item is of interest.

The Foreign Assistance Act which stems from the 50's and has it parallel in DOD Military Assistance which in many years is far greater than the total of Foreign non-military assistance (yes the US is the largest Merchant of Death in the world)
also has provisions for OFDA (Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance) in the AID (Agency for International Development) housed in the STATE Department.

Disclosure: When failing to become the Deputy GC in FEMA in 1986 I applied to be Counsel to the OIG in AID. Herbert Beckington was the IG and after selecting the insider he later called me to tell me I was the runner up and he wished he had selected me. Ifs don't count of course. I told him I appreciated the call but was sort of glad to not have gotten the job since I had no interest in counting Imelda Marcos' shoes. he also stated to me that I was the only outsider interviewing that understand completely how AID operates and that those operations were largely through domestic US contractors and NGOs.

At any rate, low and behold, in November 1985 guess who became confirmed as FEMA Director? Julius Becton a retired 3 star who had been head of OFDA. He also brought over a very bright Executive Assistant Ms. Heidi Meyer, whose husband happened to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs or some such title.

Anyhow recently a FEMA staffer relatively new asked me what I knew about FEMA/OFDA relationships? Little did he know?
Julius Becton, unsolicited by FEMA, had as head of OFDA sent a draft MOU to FEMA to create a permanent relationship between the two agencies. Shortly after sending that document to FEMA, well maybe months after, he was confirmed as FEMA Director. So in one of his very first acts as FEMA Director he asked to have someone find out what happened to the OFDA draft MOU/MOA? After diligent search the document could not be found which shows perhaps the level of grip the Director's office had on the lower orders in FEMA when Becton was confirmed. Louis O. Guiffrida had departed unwillingly in July 1985 and Robert Morris, the confirmed Deputy Director of FEMA had been running things. At any rate, Director Becton solicited the new head of OFDA to send over directly to him the draft MOU/MOA. When he got it without any real staff input he signed it as Director of FEMA. The document probably still exists at OFDA but apparently has been long lost or long ignored by FEMA.
The key element of the document was that OFDA would rely on FEMA for technical disaster assistance, not money, and FEMA would be reimbursed by OFDA. That actually happened a number of times and earthquakes in Italy or volcanic eruptions were one I remember. A fine gentlement who worked until recently and now in his 80's named Ugo Morrelli who also spoke Italian led the FEMA team to Italy.

So what is the purpose of this post. Well I would transfer all the staff, funding, and whatever to DHS/FEMA for not only cost savings but so that effort of foreign disaster assistance could have more technical and other experience from domestic disasters. Oddly, while I bray about FEMA technical expertise or the lack thereof, it does have some even though often by accident. OFDA has money but often lacks technical expertise but it does have some. And FEMA which under Director James Lee Witt and Associate Director Kay Goss signed over 100 agreements with foreign countries, including many in the former Soviet Union, and Canada [where unbeknown to the powers that be in FEMA were nearly 50 such agreements)these easily could incorporate OFDA agreements. Since one of my featured harangs on this blog is the insularity of FEMA I think the linguistic and cultural abilities of OFDA staff could make for a nice mesh. Well perhaps the "new" FEMA has no interest in international disaster work, its charter is very limited in that respect, and this change would not be welcome.

But I would not just eliminate OFDA for several reasons. First, as the oldest and richest democracy how we perform the disaster relief mission is looked to for understanding by the rest of the world. Although that looking to is often by foreign militaries and now NORTHCOM in the USA. Well I still will always beleive disaster relief and recovery and the resilience paradigm of prevention, protection, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery is a civilian function and the military has or should have better things to do to occupy its time learning about how to organize violence against the other rather than treating disaster victims as the other.

So let's do some studies and hearing on this subject. After all a volcano is a volcano, a cyclonic storm is a cyclonic storm (including Nor'Easters)and manmade events are often demonstrations that man's technology is spread world wide.