Wednesday, July 27, 2011

NOAA is about Science! FEMA is about Engineering?

NOAA has released a wonderful data set on natural weather related disasters of the last three (3) decades that cost more than $1B each in adjusted dollars. Interesting of course is that the agency that pays out many of these dollars probably could not produce these numbers.

More importantly an agency led largely by Scientists has begun the long process of destroying the credibility of FEMA just because of its competence. When I arrived in FEMA on September 10th, 1979 almost 300 personnel had advanced technical degrees with over 200 with Doctorates. When I departed on October 1, 1999 less than 50 personnel had such advanced degrees.

I don't blame White House personnel because two the apparently most competent organizational leaders James Lee Witt and W. Craig Fugate have only high school degrees. But perhaps it is time for a scientist to lead FEMA. The one engineer a register PE was Wallace B. Stickney and he proved not up to the task specifically asking to not be assigned the lead in Hurricane Andrew response and recovery resulting in the WH naming Andrew Card then Secretary of DOT and later Chief of Staff to George W. Bush in his WH years.

The real question underlying this discussion is whether science is important to FEMA? After all its real mission is funding the STATES and their local governments in response and recovery and funding the FEDERAL establishment with various mission assignments. But can FEMA even know if what it is doing makes sense without a Chief Scientist among others in its ranks or just showing respect for science in its programs and policies. Perhaps DHS and FEMA management types that number over 500 dedicated FTE could study the issue or if not competent to do so manage a contract to do so.

A simple analysis would demonstrate that most science issues in FEMA had traditionally been left to complete politicization--climate change impacts--perhaps the most startling--but then without any scientist in the room when decisions are made this is always going to be the likely result.

Hey hoping FEMA studies the NOAA data and reaches some conclusions. I have but then despite 65 undergrad credit hours in hard science and math I have reached some of my own that will blog later upon.

Good luck to FEMA and its nonscientists. After NEWTON just remember it was called SCIENCE and not NATURAL PHILOSOPHY!