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  • Napolitano’s Words and FEMA’s Actions

    US Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano speaks to the National Association of Counties during their annual legislative conference in Washington, DC, March 10, 2009. Napolitano spoke of the need for counties to work with the Department of Homeland Security in emergencies and offered support to counties in times of need.

    DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano should be vigorously applauded for telling the good folks at the National Emergency Management Agency mid-year conference that FEMA is and should not be a first responder. Napolitano is dead right that too many Americans see FEMA as the end-all and be-all of disaster response activity. We can forgive Napolitano for not owning up to FEMA’s role in fostering that perception given that it has issued declarations at an ever-increasing pace over the last sixteen years for ever more routine-type disasters. Specifically, the yearly average of FEMA declarations has gone from roughly 36 per year from 1980-1992 to 89 per year from 1993 to 2000 to 130 per year from 2001-2008. We hope Napolitano will do more they say FEMA needs to change the perception that it is “always there” and actually reduce the number of FEMA declarations so that it isn’t. To wit, in its first 48 days, the Obama FEMA has issued 21 declarations, which translates into 160 declarations in its first year, or a new declaration every 2 days.

    In Homeland Security 3.0, scholars James Carafano and David Heyman emphasize the importance of developing disaster response capabilities “outside the Beltway”–because these folks are the first on the scene in the wake of a disaster. And that this federal approach to disaster response ignores the principle of federalism.

    Given the Secretary’s comments and the Obama FEMA realities, we hope to see Napolitano translate her words into action.

    Posted in Security [slideshow_deploy]

    4 Responses to Napolitano’s Words and FEMA’s Actions

    1. suek, so Cal says:

      Well, guys…like every other bureaucracy, they have to justify their existence. Shucks…if they only declared 1 or 2 emergencies per year, would we begin to question whether we really needed them?

      And there's the accounting thing. If their budget is 10 million per year (figure totally made up)and there's only one incident, then that incident is allocated the full 10 million in cost. If they declare 10 incidents, then each incident is allocated 1 million. You get the picture…the more incidents, the lower the cost of each one. Makes them out as being _very_ efficient, and possibly justifies increasing the budget for next year – every bureaucrat's dream scenario.

    2. Bob says:

      FEMA does not declare disasters. The White House does after a request has been made by a governor. The fact is that more governors have been saying that can't manage their disaster response without FEMA.

      Who wrote the Stafford Act that declarations are based on? Tom Ridge, the first director of DHS. Who has benefited from all of these declarations? That's right, contractors who do little or no real work. Tell all the states to have better disaster plans and then I will be behind you.

      By the way, Obama has not approved 21 disaters since taking office either. There have only been five since he became president. The others were signed by George Bush. Please don't get this twisted. FEMA is a construct of the Andrew Card and Ridge.

    3. Hank, NW Arkansas says:

      Actually, Tom Ridge, George Bush (unless you are talking about Bush 41 when he was VP) and Andrew Card had nothing to do with the passage or signing of the Stafford Act. The Robert T Stafford Act was signed into law in November, 1988 by Ronald Reagan.

      Also, there ahve been 12 disaster declarations since Obama took office. You can find them listed at http://www.fema.gov/news/disasters.fema. It is important to remember that declarations are made only after being requested by the State governor.

    4. Willliam Kaneohe, says:

      It is good that Secretary Napolitano is calling on a re-education of American in terms of there is no national 911. It is the local fire, police, and emergency medical personnel who are our first responders. When they need assistance, the states support. The federal government is the last resort. Despite this, the last administration seemed to believe that the legacy of James Lee Witt (fortunate not to have a "big one" on his watch) would be an easy way to achieve popularity and name recognition. Michael D. Brown went around the country making a case that, "FEMA would be there". Subsequent leadership touted the "New FEMA" with spin and very little actual capability. Now it is time to move ahead but the great challenge will be to re-educate an America that demands one line solutions instanteously, even to complex catastrophes. The media has, of course, fostered this simplistic view and avoided the nuances of Constitutional responsibilities and authorities of our Federalist system of government.

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