By Katherine McIntire Peters, Government Executive
Feb 17, 2009
Ever since the Federal Emergency Management Agency was absorbed into
the Homeland Security Department after its creation in 2003,
bureaucrats and elected officials have debated the merits of that
decision. After weighing the arguments for and against making FEMA
a stand-alone agency again, the department’s inspector general found
such a reorganization could have significant negative repercussions.
“Removing FEMA from DHS at this point would cause considerable upheaval, to both FEMA and the department,” IG Richard Skinner wrote in a report released Tuesday.
benefits from the wealth of resources and capabilities inherent in
Homeland Security, such as search and rescue, communications, law
enforcement, intelligence, infrastructure protection, and the ability
to surge personnel from other DHS agencies during emergencies, the report concluded.
response to hurricanes Gustav and Ike last fall illustrated the point:
Customs and Border Protection provided security and aerial surveys of
the damaged regions; the Transportation Security Administration
supported 20 commodity distribution locations with 366 employees; and
the Coast Guard performed search-and-rescue missions.
Cooper, who served as business liaison director at Homeland Security
from 2003 to 2006, said Witt deserves enormous credit for his
accomplishments at FEMA, but pointed out the
agency never had to deal with anything comparable to Katrina under
Witt. Since Katrina, under the leadership of David Paulison, its most
recent administrator whose career also was in emergency management, FEMA
developed a much more robust planning capability upon which the Obama
administration can build, said Cooper, who is now a partner at Catalyst
Partners, a public affairs and lobbying firm in Washington.
mission is so intertwined with that of other Homeland Security agencies
that taking it out of the department would be a big mistake, Cooper
said. “You have to recognize that FEMA has a lot more resources at its disposal today” than it had in the past, he said.