Friday, July 29, 2011

Levees and FEMA--failed structures failed policy

A new chapter in the 40 year old struggle of FEMA and its mapping program to NOT examine levee risks on its NFIP maps!

See new GAO report:

FEMA and the Corps Have Taken Steps to Establish a Task Force, but FEMA Has Not Assessed the Costs of Collecting and Reporting All Levee-Related Concerns
GAO-11-689R July 29, 2011
Full Report (PDF, 15 pages)

In Process

In summary, FEMA and the Corps have taken steps to establish the task force to address levee mapping issues in local communities. For example, in what they described as an initial step towards addressing the congressional concerns outlined in the Senate committee report, FEMA and the Corps developed a joint memorandum that describes their relationship and five planned actions. In addition, FEMA officials report that the task force does not have the capability to collect and report all contacts it has with communities that involve levee-related concerns, as directed by the Senate committee report. According to FEMA officials, developing and implementing a system that would enable the agency to collect and report this information would be unduly resource intensive. However agency officials have not completed an analysis to determine the costs of developing such a system, and documented and communicated that information to Congress. FEMA could better support its position that implementing a system to collect and report all levee-related community concerns would be unduly resource intensive if it performs and documents an analysis of the costs and timeframes needed to develop such a system. Furthermore, this analysis could include the identification of potential alternatives that might address the Senate committee report language in more cost-effective ways. To assist congressional decision makers, we are recommending that FEMA assess the costs and timeframes needed to develop a system to collect and report all contacts with communities that have levee-related concerns; identify, if applicable, cost effective alternatives to address the intent of the Senate committee report language; and document and communicate this information to Congress. To assist congressional decision makers, we recommend that the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency assess the costs and time frames needed to develop a system to collect and report all contacts with communities that have levee-related concerns; identify, if applicable, cost-effective alternatives for addressing the Senate committee report language; and document and communicate this information to Congress.

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!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Is the Past Prologue?

I heard another old timer retiring from FEMA on Friday. Vern Wingert. He goes back to the NGA study on Emergency Management and while raising horses actually contributed much to FEMA over the years. It is for others to measure a person's contribution but as for my take on VERN his heart and head were often in the right place IMO on policy issues and operations. And he busted his A__!

But hey I am biased because Vern was always a big help to me. He helped me understand what I refer to as the countervailing forces in FEMA meaning those officials who would do anything to save their skin even while undermining the long term strength of FEMA and adversely impacting the American polity.

My best to VERN and you should be extensively debrieffed by the Adminstrator and others as to your career because their eyes might become wide open. If not them perhaps GAO. Or DHS/IG!

Thanks VERN on behalf of the American people. Come visit me.

Monday, July 25, 2011

So Who is Running FEMA?

Strongly suggest that the total travels of W. Craig Fugate, Richard Serrino, and Tim Manning be summarized and made available to the public and annotated with those directly tied to a disaster domestic or International [I give full credit to Tim Manning for his trip to New Zealand and helping out the KIWIs as well I am sure as learning from the experience]. I also suggest a footnot as to total annual leave taken by these three although it used to be technically PAS personnel were NEVER on annual leave. All these three are Senate confirmed.

The above would give some insights as to how policy is formulated within and by FEMA's key appointees and whether one or all might show up in a catastrophic disaster situation--my definition by the way is where multiple states are involved or government capability to respond and recovery are knocked off status immediately by the event and like to be disrupted for 10 or more days. THE FEDERAL PRIORITY IN CASE YOU DID NOT KNOW IS TO MAKE SURE UNDER THE CONSTITUTION THAT A STATES CAPABILITY IS RESTORED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE EVEN TAKING PRIORITY OVER FEMA OF RESTORATION OF ITS OWN CAPABILITIES. You heard it hear first but this was long contained in my briefing of federal and state officials during my FEMA career from 1979-1999.

This does not indicate in anyway of course that FEMA has command and control over any state or local resources and in my opinion (IMO) does not and cannot be given that authority by Congress or the President. This does not mean that FEMA cannot assist state and local government officials or even fund their operations. Isn't it interesting that so little attention has been given officially to these important questions. Oddly when DOJ officials where involved in FEMA decision making and to see where they might be see the FEMA/OGC opinions on the home page of this blog they often called me to ask questions and if I had a position. They did this because from my entry to FEMA to October 1, 1986, when I became involved in REP, I ran FEMA's interface on litigation with DOJ and I was supposedly a known quantity. My answers were often relayed higher up the DOJ totem pole and perhaps strangely they often agreed with my position. Perhaps I and DOJ were wrong and FEMA officialdom and other lawyers were right but what is fascinating is that when put to the test of a written opinion DOJ always sided with me not FEMA or its lawyers. Hey you have to have some fun in the gummit.

My point is that FEMA does not itself have a clear cut chain of command. This could be handled in formal delegations but is not.

And then of course even if FEMA decides how is that reviewed and approved or rejected by DHS? There can of course be some urgency in these decision making processes. How soon will FEMA approve exercises where the play reflects the NORWEGIAN tragedy?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

FEMA's Indian Policy

Recently W. Craig Fugate has made a major effort to involve the Native Americans more deeply in FEMA programs, functions and activities. Unfortunately, he is between the proverbial rock and a hard place. The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, Public Law 100-707 that supplemented in part, repealed in part, and modified in part the Disaster Relief Act of 1974, Public Law 93-288, treats tribes as local government units. The rulings of SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the US) and federal law including treaty law treat them as sovereign nations. In an administrative law process the Department of Interior rules on which tribes will be given recognized federal status, include the right in some cases to open and operate casinos.

Under the Clinton Adminstration an effort by a brilliant young staffer (actually trained as a chemist) to resolve this conundrum led to her being drummed out of FEMA for following federal law and policy. Although the office of the General Counsel was never asked to rule officially on this split in legal authority during my time there 1979-1999) I did my best to support the staff effort which I believe directly contradicts the Stafford Act approach.

In his famous treatise on statutory construction, Professor Sutherland opines that Congress is presumed to both know its own mind and to know federal law. Thus, Congressional enactments should be construed to avoid conflicts whenever possible. Only where there is a direct statutory conflict should the statute later in time have some weight as controlling. But the Indian Tribal rights issues have plagued American law since President Jackson blotted his contribution to history by ejecting the Choctaws, Cherokees, and other tribes from the Southeast so there land could be settled by White Americans.

This is the kind of issue that should have been addressed by the OLC (Office of the Legal Counsel) at the DOJ (Dept. of Justice) but since FEMA has historically been reversed by OLC on both its legal analysis and policies almost 100% of the time in cases referred this was never a likely step to be taken by FEMA in the past when independent and certainly not likely to be taken by the GC of DHS, currently Mr. Fong.

If this was resolved properly my hope would be that recognized tribes and other Native Americans could in fact become more heavily utilized not just as recipients of federal disaster outlays and other FEMA programs, but could be trained up and utilized much as the NGO's are for disaster operations. Time Will Tell!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Where Have I been?

My last post on this blog was on June 23rd and now July 23rd. I spent the last 4 weeks visiting friends and visiting spots I had not seen in New England for almost 40 years. But much has been happening in FEMA land and elsewhere in that time. So gradually will be catching up.

The biggest news from and about FEMA is that the President's DRF [Disaster Relief Fund] is dangerously low as we enter the heights of hurricane season. Let's play a game however and ask whether anyone knows (including FEMA officials) whether FEMA has ever paid out relief for drought and heat as a declared Presidential disaster.

Winners are entitled to visit me here where I live on the Little Wicomico River near the mouth of the Potomac. They can stay until tired of my shrillness and Nostrodomus like predictions many of which have proved only too accurate over the last year. And yes, Greece will declare a default because now despite efforts at rescue the rescuers waited only too long to conduct the rescue. Hey the Drachma will be back before the end of the year and time to visit Greece and its splendors of the present and past. A great people and attended a Greek Festival in New England on my pilgrimage.

So here's to returning to blogging.