A recent New York Times editorial calls for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to be taken out of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and elevated back up to cabinet level status. This is the way it was in the Clinton years, and the editorial slams the Bush Administration’s disaster response efforts during Hurricane Katrina as its case in point for. In fact the editorial seems to dream of the “good ole’ days” of FEMA – where the FEMA administrator reported directly to the President and as it described “professionals, not political appointees” ruled the roost.
FEMA has not been a disaster since it was placed under DHS. FEMA successfully responded to the Midwest Floods, California Wildfires, and Hurricane Ike, since Katrina. In the aftermath of the Midwest floods, citizens and government officials alike applauded FEMA for such actions as sending officials to the Midwest prior to the river’s crest to work with state and local authorities.
No one is arguing that Katrina wasn’t bungled – but this editorial completely ignores demonstrable successes by FEMA, under DHS leadership, and is a slap in the face to the individuals who work hard every day to respond to disasters after an emergency. Removing FEMA from DHS would simply breed confusion between DHS/FEMA roles, unduly expand government, and increase response time by adding more steps to the process.
Assuming that direct access to the President is the only way to get things done is simply not in line with the facts and such a charge hints that FEMA needs preference over the vast number of components, such as the Department of the Navy, who fall under a higher cabinet-level authority—but are successful in fulfilling their missions. It’s not a surprise that the NY Times seeks to glamorize the Clinton years, but making such a major change, merely for the sake of change, is ill-advised.