Special Topics in Business Introduction The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is responsible for coordinating the government’s role in preparation, prevention, response and recovery from domestic disaster, whether they be natural or man-made. FEMA. gov lists 1849 total disasters declared since 1953, with an average of 32 each year (13). This particular agency has generated a lot of praise and but just as much criticism. Over the course of FEMA’s history, there are many lessons to be learned and FEMA is always looking for ways to be more effective.This paper will examine the history of FEMA, evaluate its performance over the years and pinpoint lessons to be learned and actions to be taken.
History and Purpose of FEMA Evolution of FEMA FEMA can trace its origins back to the Congressional Act of 1803, which is generally considered to be the first piece of disaster legislation. This Act granted assistance to a town in New Hampshire following an extensive fire. Over the next century, more than 100 instances of ad hoc legislation were passed in response to natural disasters (12).
The 1960s and 1970s brought many disasters that required major government intervention, facilitated primarily through the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration. However, there were complaints about the lack of coordination. It was becoming clear that a centralized and unified system was needed (13). In 1979, President Carter signed an executive order margining many of the separate disaster-related agencies into the Federal Emergency Management Agency – FEMA.FEMA absorbed agencies such as the Federal Insurance Administration, the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration, the National Weather Service Community Preparedness Program and the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration. John Macy was appointed as FEMA’s first director and the mission became to prevent and protect the United States from disasters – whether it be hurricanes, tornados or war (12). FEMA operated as an independent agency until March of 2003, when FEMA was placed with 22 other federal agencies into the newly created Department of Homeland Security.This was the largest government reorganization in 40 years (13), under which FEMA was demoted to a sub-department under the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate (14).
Headed by Secretary Thomas Ridge, the DHS continued and expanded FEMA’s original mission – to combat disasters natural or man-made, including war and terrorism. As a result of this integration, morale at FEMA declined and the agency lost many long-standing employees. FEMA also lost the preparedness function (but later gained it back), and any functions related to terrorism (14).
As a result, FEMA loses funding to other agencies; almost $1 Billion of it related to its previous terrorism functions (14). [pic][pic] Inclusion into DHS: Curse or Benefit? There has been much debate about whether or not FEMA’s inclusion in the DHS was a benefit or a curse. There truly are two sides to the coin. On one hand, FEMA benefits from the vast resources at DHS’ disposal – search and rescue, communications, law enforcement, intelligence and the ability to borrow staff from other parts of the Department (1).Hurricanes Gustav and Ike last fall were opportunities for this to be showcased – Customs and Border Protection provided the security and even aerial surveys of damage, the Transportation Security Administration provided commodity distribution locations and staff and the Coast Guard did search-and-rescue (11). However, some critical of the Katrina response have called for FEMA to be moved back into an independent agency or department (3). Leo Bosner, president of AFGE Local 4060, has called for the removal of FEMA for DHS because FEMA is responsible for responding to emergencies, while DHS is responsible for preventing them (5).
The biggest “cons” to FEMA’s residence in DHS is its lost independence and funding issues. FEMA’s budget varies depending on expected and trended disaster counts. Now, DHS has to share its money with the department as a whole. FEMA’s funding comes from the President’s budget, but it is in direct competition with all of the other administration’s current interests, particular with its sister departments within DHS. FEMA often takes a backseat to terrorism.In the integration of FEMA into the DHS, FEMA had to contribute to the start-up costs of the new department, but unfortunately evidence suggests that the agency may have been made to pay a disproportionately higher amount than larger agencies. FEMA officials say this directly affected their levels of service in 2004 and 2005 (14). In the integration, FEMA lost some programs, but lost major ones as well (14).
In 2005, plans continued to reduce FEMA. Director at the time, Michael Brown, wrote a memo in June expressing his concern about the agency’s future if the cuts continued (13).Perhaps the most ironic cut was the disaster planning exercise “Hurricane Pam. ” This exercise, in which outlines a scenario where a disastrous hurricane hits New Orleans, leaving more than 100,000 people in the city, began a year before Katrina. The exercise was never finished because the Bush Administration cut funding (13). But it doesn’t look like FEMA is going anywhere.
Inspector General Richard Skinner wrote a 2009 report in which he said, “Removing FEMA from DHS at this point would cause considerable upheaval, to both FEMA and the department. (11) Even present day Director Craig Fugate believes it should remain part of DHS, and just focus on its primary mission – preparing for future disasters while recovering from previous ones (4). Rich Cooper, who served as business liaison director at DHS from 2003 to 2006, said “You have to recognize that FEMA has a lot more resources at its disposal today,” and that its mission is now so intertwined with the other DHS agencies that taking it out would be a big mistake (11). Past Performance Hurricanes One of the disasters that earned FEMA widespread criticism wasHurricane Hugo, which hit the Southeast in September of 1989.
Costing $7 Billion in damages, it was the costliest hurricane in US history at the time (16). The assessment of FEMA’s performance was less than positive. Senator Ernest Hollings of South Caroline called FEMA “the sorriest bunch of bureaucratic jackasses I’ve ever known. ” (8) One example of the contemptible bureaucracy occurred when Puerto Rican Governor Rafael Hernandez-Colon sent in the federal aid request forms to FEMA headquarters. The governor did not check one section of the form, and a diligent FEMA employee sent the request back – through the U.S. mail. It’s no surprise that the forms did not get back to Governor Hernandez-Colon until after Hugo hit.
Federal aid was held up for days as the governor re-filed the paperwork and sent them through postal mail. Then Representative Norm Mineta, of California, said, “FEMA could screw up a two-car parade. ” (8) But the disaster that was Hugo was soon outshined by Category 5 Hurricane Andrew, a monster of a hurricane that hit Dade County on August 24, 1992. Andrew quickly knocked Hugo out of the ranks as the costliest U. S.
hurricane with a price tag of over $25 Billion (17).FEMA had not been tested by a major national disaster in the past two administrations, and Andrew was the first Category 5 hurricane in 23 years. In this time, the agency had become a parking lot for political appointees (13). FEMA was lashed at once again for tardiness, inaction and lack of preparedness. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland said in 1992, “I am outraged by the federal government’s pathetically sluggish and ill-planned response to the devastating disaster wrought by Hurricane Andrew…” (8) When President Bill Clinton took over from President Bush, he appointed James Lee Witt as FEMA director.FEMA was in shambles. From 1993 to 2000, Director Witt led a dramatic improvement in FEMA’s performance.
Managers pushed a specific mission on find ways to maximize efficiency, preventing loss of life and property (8). By 1998, FEMA had reduced its averaged relief check wait time from 20 days in 1992 to 8 days. 89 – 97% of relief recipients rated FEMA favorable on surveys. Phone calls replaced forms put in the mail. FEMA received praise for its response in emergencies such as the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Midwestern Floods of 1993. Senator BobGraham, Florida, called FEMA’s response a “180-degree turnaround” from its handling of Hurricane Andrew (8). In 2004, Florida was hit by three hurricanes in succession: Charlie, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne.
FEMA and other federal aid were on time and effective. President Bush gave personal attention to victims. It has even been speculated that this treatment won Florida for President Bush in his re-election run. So what happened? The complete catastrophe that was Hurricane Katrina is well known by all. Virtually everything that could’ve gone wrong with emergency aid did, and blame has been passed all around between all levels of government.There are accusations of lack of preparation, poor management and inadequate response. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina makes landfall in New Orleans. Previously a Category 5, Katrina was a Category 3 when it hit.
Strong winds, combined with a crippling storm surge and New Orleans’ toppled levees, made Katrina the reigning champion as the most expensive natural disaster in U. S. history, with a bill over over $81 Billion. Over 1800 died, with many more reported missing.
Natural gas and oil production was shut down in the Gulf of Mexico.Hundreds of thousands were left unemployed and homeless, which has had a trickledown effect that may leave the total economic effect of Hurricane Katrina on Louisiana and Mississippi at over $150 Billion (15). Other Involvements At times, FEMA has had performance issues due to lack of focus and a clearly defined mission. Pre-Andrew, FEMA was still spending almost half of its budget on the mission it was given in 1979: to prepare for nuclear attack. Operations associated with this mission severely strained natural disaster response (10).Director James Witt recognized the increasing unlikelihood of a nuclear attack, and moved FEMA in a new direction. Resources the agency had gathered and used to prepare for a possible Soviet attack were now at the disposal of natural disaster response teams. One hundred FEMA specialists were freed up (10).
Lessons Learned Katrina In October of 2006, the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act was signed by President Bush. Katrina pointed out a desperate need for improvement in FEMA’s processes and organization. First, it became clear that FEMA needed a unified command system (1).
After Katrina, Director Paulison (who replaced Michael Brown as director of FEMA when Brown fell under very heavy criticism for his performance, or lack thereof, during Katrina) found that the lack of an unified command system contributed. It was difficult to pass messages between emergency responders because the communications systems were knocked out. It got the point where messages in bottles were actually being dropped from helicopters to people on the ground. There was no common response model and no central command center. Points of contact for logistics and relief efforts were not known by those working in the field.Conflicting information was abounding, and although FEMA was offered help from other agencies, no one knew how to accept that support (1). Poor management = poor performance Michael Brown, President George W.
Bush’s appointed FEMA director, had a short run. Formerly running an Arabian Horse Association, he had absolutely no disaster or emergency experience. His incredibly poor performance during Hurricane Katrina led to his replacement by David Paulison in 2005 (3).
Brown serves as an example that without the proper leadership, FEMA is useless.Brown is by no means the first example of an unqualified political appointee. In the words of former advisory board member and defense analyst Lawrence Korb, FEMA has oftentimes been a “political dumping ground,” taking political contributors or friends of the Administration with no experience in emergency management. Wallace Stickney, for example, was appointed by President George H. W.
Bush to lead FEMA. His only qualification was that he was a friend and neighbor of Bush’s Chief of Staff. Stickney may as well have been invisible other than his trips to the capitol to defend the agency.In the early 1990s, FEMA had 10 times the proportion of political appointees as the average government agency. Needless to say, this has an enormous effect on how FEMA performs. Sam Jones, mayor of Franklin, Louisiana said a week after Hurricane Andrew hit of the damage assessors who were sent to his town, “There were political appointees, members of country Republican parties hired on an as-needed basis…. They were terribly inexperienced. ” (10) In the mid 1990s, James Witt took over and was credited with improving management after he discovered that 8 out of 10 regional offices had no directors (1).
Be more proactive David Garratt, FEMA’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for Disaster Assistance, is quoted as saying, “Chief among all the lessons we learned was the need to be far more proactive and far more aggressive in terms of how we tackle emergent problems in the field. ” (1) Jeffrey Itell, a GAO project manager who conducted a study on FEMA, felt that it is rarely asked “What should we be doing in the first place? ” The Stafford Act, which is FEMA’s enabling legislation, gives FEMA officials power that they don’t always exercise.FEMA has authorization to assess an area and what assistance is needed, mobilize that assistance and even push the governor of a particular state to accept federal help. Itell said, “Before Hurricane Andrew, FEMA officials took almost none of these steps. Consequently, when a disaster occurred, FEMA’s relief efforts were inevitably too little, too late. ” (10) Areas To Improve Hire and retain quality and experienced management When Clinton appointed James Lee Witt as FEMA director, they both recognized the high number of political appointees and did some housecleaning.Their method was to keep only the highest ranking officials as political appointees, but all staff levels below would be career civil servants.
In addition, Witt was to interview and approve Clinton’s selections to verify they were qualified. (10) Examples of Clinton/Witt appointees include Elaine McReynolds, head of the Federal Insurance Administration served as the insurance commissioner of Tennessee for over seven years. Richard Moore, a former state legislator from Massachusetts, was appointed to help make state and local governments better prepared for disasters.Carrye Brown, head of the Fire Administration, had worked on Capitol Hill for 18 years where she was a specialist in disaster and fire legislation. (10) Develop Workforce Plan It’s important to not only hire experienced and competent staff, but to take steps to retain them by reducing employee dissatisfaction – or at least prevent the turnover from affecting FEMA where possible.
Fill FEMA with qualified staff – and enough of it. Michael Brown’s replacement, Director Paulison, concentrated on increasing staff levels. Since Katrina, FEMA has doubled its staff to almost 4,000 (9).
There are also morale issues to contend with.FEMA ranked 211 out of 222 agencies, and rec’d an overall employee satisfaction score of 49. 5% in a 2007 survey “2007 Best Places to Work. ” (5) In an extensive report in 2007 done by the Government Accountability Office, the GAO assessed that FEMA lacks a workforce plan and human capital strategies. GAO also assesses that FEMA was lacking in succession plans – how to fill vacant spots. FEMA lost a lot of experienced and high level staff during the merger into DHS, and there was no experienced mid-level employees to fill the gap.
In 2004, 16% of FEMA’s GS-15 positions were held by people who were new to their position (14).Reduce levels of bureaucracy and streamline procedure State versus local versus federal roles need to be clearly delineated. Several independent studies had shown that many of FEMA’s high-profile failures can be contributed to the expectation by state and local officials that the federal government would automatically move in and take over after disaster struck. (8) If the roles of each level of government are expressly and clearly spelled out, each group will know its responsibilities so there is no waiting game – where each level of government is waiting to see what the other one will do.
Constant bureaucratic delay has long been a complaint of anyone who has worked with or evaluated FEMA. FEMA workers have often held up crucial aid requests because the proper forms were not filled out or there were missing signatures. “If we had asked for a certain resource this way we could have gotten it,” Kate Hale, director of the Dade County Emergency Services remarked after Hurricane Andrew, “but FEMA would say that we hadn’t framed the question properly….
FEMA’s employees appeared to be terrified at making a mistake, so they’d rather do nothing than make a mistake because a mistake could cost them their career. (10) Refine process for providing assistance before a disaster is actually declared, or for declaring disasters early In 2007, a string of tornados tore through Alabama and Georgia. Tarps were requested by local FEMA officials said no because no formal disaster had been declared (1).
But the new FEMA was evident when Category 5 Hurricane Dean was aimed for Texas. Disaster was pre-declared and aid moved into the area before the storm even made landfall. Dean ended up passing Texas, but it is speculated that if the storm hit, it would have been far worse than Katrina (1).Keep better track of resource flow The GAO assessed that FEMA does not keep adequate information on resource allocation or flow. For example, until 2005 FEMA didn’t even have accurate data on its employee numbers and location. FEMA still uses multiple systems managed by different offices to gather data on staff (14). FEMA needs to collect such information to better manage resources used for day to day operations. Then, this information can be linked to the fulfillment of its mission and then evaluated as success or failure to help prioritize and plan.
FEMA Positions Itself to be More Effective FEMA’s Strategic Plan for FY 2008-2013. FEMA has developed a list of strategic plan goals – with specific objectives under each goal. Some of these goals include: Lead an integrated approach that strengthens the Nation’s ability to address disasters, emergencies, and terrorist events, – Deliver easily accessible and coordinated assistance for all programs, – Provide reliable information at the right time for all users, – FEMA invests in people and people invest in FEMA to ensure mission success, – Build public trust and confidence through erformance and stewardship.
Following Lessons Learned It is generally agreed that FEMA has made significant improvements since the Katrina nightmare, largely thanks to the Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act and placing of experienced managers within FEMA. The agency received praise for more efficient coordination with state and local officials as well as a show of “moxie. ” Mark Merritt, president of Washington-based emergency management consultant company: “Post-Katrina, you’re seeing a much more highly developed partnership between FEMA, state and locals. (9) But FEMA has gone thru cycles of failure-success-failure-success in the past, so it’s important they don’t get too comfortable, and always keep a lookout for ways to improve, and keep the improvements they have made valid. Creation of Workforce Plan FEMA even brought in a consulting firm to assist.
They hope to have analyzed entire organization by 2009, although continuing changes in DHS and FEMA may slow this down (14). Understand and Work Around Environmental Forces on the Company Political The future of FEMA is largely affected by who holds political office, such as a new administration coming in.Each president can appoint whoever he or she wants in the higher levels of government – including the FEMA director. A lot of FEMA officials have been political appointees with no emergency or disaster experience. FEMA’s funding is also at the mercy of each new administration and its priorities.
Legal FEMA is often involved in legal proceedings from time to time. In a session titled “FEMA’s Response to the 2004 Florida Hurricanes: A Disaster for Taxpayers? ” senators questioned former FEMA director Michael over his agency’s payouts to residents of Florida.Senator Nelson from Florida outlined many frauds allegedly perpetuated by Brown at FEMA. There were over $31 million in payouts, such as money for home and car repairs, in Miami-Dade County. Miami-Dade County was largely unaffected by the storms. FEMA also paid the costs of over 300 funerals throughout the state of Florida, even though the medical examiners attributed only 123 of those deaths to the hurricanes (2). FEMA was also taken to court when it cut off aid in late 2006 to thousands of Gulf coast residents.Director Paulison stated that the aid was given to basically anyone and everyone that requested it, without proper research or investigation into the claims.
When FEMA officials realized the recipients were ineligible, they denied further aid. A federal court ruled that this was unconstitutional and ordered FEMA to restore aid (6). Economical On May 18, 2005, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs held hearings about waste and corruption in the Florida programs (2). Any sort of government waste has economic implications, particularly when we are getting into the millions of dollars.FEMA is also always in danger of funding cuts – FEMA is allocated funds in the President’s budget and has to compete with other DHS departments, based on the current administration’s priorities. Technological Technology also has a profound impact on FEMA operations.
Use of technological developments to keep communications and management systems first rate (as budget will allow, of course) should be a priority for the agency. In fact, Since Katrina, FEMA has upgraded its logistics system so supply trucks can be tracked electronically (9).Things such as integrated wireless networks, common database systems, e-documents and e-signatures are all technological advancements that FEMA can benefit from.
Societal & Cultural The Katrina experience carried with it a lot of unfortunate social and cultural controversy, such as the accusations that the race and/or status of Gulf Coast residents affected the response time and care of FEMA and the federal government. Many people have hypothesized that had the area affected been filled with rich Caucasians, rather than poor blacks, government response would have been much quicker and effective.In contrast, it has been speculated that Florida received special treatment in 2004 because the area is filled with well-to-do Republicans, the governor happens to be President Bush’s brother, and President Bush wanted Florida’s votes. Conclusion FEMA has had a very rocky history, a series of ups and downs in performance that leaves much room for improvement. However, because of the enormous amount of backlash and investigation surrounding FEMA’s performance during Hurricane Katrina, it is doubtful that the agency will be allowed to slip up again anytime soon.The current FEMA director, Craig Fugate, is highly qualified and should bring with him a commitment to results and dedication to FEMA’s mission.
If FEMA can retain what it’s learned, and overcome the challenges of being a component of the DHS while seizing the advantages, the agency will be on its way to fulfilling its stated mission: to reduce the loss of life and property and protect the nation from all disasters, whether natural or man-made. Works Cited 7 “Recovering FEMA,” Peters, Katherine M. ; 4/1/08, www. governmentexecutive. com. 8 “FEMA,” 9/5/05, http://www.
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governmentexecutive. com. 12 “FEMA chief defends decision to cut off aid to hurricane victims,” Strohm, Chris; 11/30/06, www.
governmentexecutive. com. 3 “Homeland Security chief lists FEMA overhaul among achievements,” Strohm, Chris; 12/18/08, www. governmentexecutive.
com. 14 “Knee-jerk responses to FEMA’s problems will help no one,” Ellig, Jerry; 9/05,The Hill (George Mason University). 15 “FEMA Gets Better Marks for Response to Ike After Katrina Fiasco,” Bliss, Jeff; 9/08, www. bloomberg. com. 16 “The FEMA Phoenix,” Franklin, Daniel; July/August 1995, Washington Monthly. 17 “Moving FEMA out of Homeland Security could pose risks,” Peters, Katherine M. ; February 2009, www.
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