Monday, February 7, 2011

FEMA's Organization

FEMA organization charts can be found by clicking first on the FEMA Historical Materials section of the HOMEPAGE of this blog, and then a second click on the FEMA RESOURCES that comes up. I will hopefully be loading one from 1991 and 1995 to that page maintained for me by FAS and Steve Aftergood.

The management guru's used to say that five (5) direct reports were the most a key official in any organization should have reporting to him/her. The Direct Reports in FEMA have never been so few. Part of the problem is that the basic conundrum of FEMA as an operational agency without much real policy development responsibility always contests with the desire of the policy types to want to play in the big leagues. The problem of course is that FEMA is not truly an operational agency, largely giving out grants and information (hopefully accurate) to others who then do the heavy lifting.

Thus, the strange organization which cannot truly deal with a catastrophic situation and is not really disigned to be effective as a collaborating and coordination entity because to do that requires essential knowledge of how other components of the Executive Branch do their jobs or can do an expanded job in a crisis.

The question I have is what if FEMA's leadership really did go on record with the WH and the Congress and explain in detail what it does, can do, wants to be able to do, and what it cannot do and does not want to do. WOW would that make for an interesting oversight hearing.

Oddly GAO and DHS/OIG seldom really decide in any final sense what FEMA should be doing, can do, or should not be doing. So they continuously lace their reports with terms like "reasonable progress", "significant progress", but seldom indicate exactly what progress has been accomplished and the metrics to measure that. FEMA also has no real statistics or program evaluation unit so that makes it more difficult to accompolish effective oversight. It is not even clear exactly what use FEMA makes of its subunits when developing and formulating policy, how it reviews and incorporates or rejects recommendations of its advisory groups, or what maximization of the talents and capabilities of its subunits would entail. It has stopped publishing delegations in the FEDERAL REGISTER on the basis that FEMA is not legally required to do so. Yet all other agencies and departments of the Executive Branch continue to do so and cite legal authority to do so if not actual legal requirements.

So FEMA remains opaque to outsiders and unfortunately to its own staff and units. This makes for hard going when the agency really has to put its shoulder into its task of dealing with large scale events.

Congress seems to be in a cost-cutting mood and so does the Executive Branch. So deciding the fundamentals of FEMA's mission could result in reduction of assignments to FEMA or expansion. It will be interesting to watch as we (the US) runs up to the 2012 elections.

One test of FEMA's capability would be to exam the last 10 years of their legislative proposals and success or failure in getting those proposals enacted into law. Could a small WH unit do MISSION ASSIGNMENTS and funding better than a FEMA? Maybe! But what if the other agencies and departments fail to do their night jobs for FEMA and some entity must be around to take the blame? The great advantage to both NIXON in his Reorganization Plan NO. 1 of 1973 and Carter in his Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978 is setting up an entity outside the WH to take the downside risk of catastrophic response and recovery. Hey beware the trust of Princes. And of course George W. Bush who had operated as a Governor with one of the largest National Guard and USACOE components to back him during disasters was more than happy to have a weak state EM component. And of course Barak Obama has never lived through a large domestic disaster as President and seems to not want anyone to find out that Haiti was a large-scale domestic disaster. And DHS is desperately trying to make believe that its Haitian Earthquake efforts were close to the mark of being successful. Charade? Yes! But hey if you are in a socially vulnerable community or portion thereof look closely at the last years events in Haiti. Or maybe Katrina.