Rich Cooper

Jul 7, 2009

On Wednesday, July 8th, the full Committee of US House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee will convene a hearing entitled, “FEMA Housing: An Examination of Current Problems and Innovative Solutions”

It’s got an even more interesting witness list which includes:

Panel I
•    Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency
•    Richard L. Skinner, Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security
•    Gerald Jones, Member, National Institute of Building Sciences
•    Erica Gees, American Institute of Architects
•    Reilly Morse, Senior Attorney, Mississippi Center for Justice
•    Don Kubley, President, Intershelter
•    Braddon Rininger, President, Brajo, Inc.
•    Walter Boasso, Chief Executive Officer, HELP

While it is Chairman’s prerogative to call the full Committee together to address any subject of his choosing, it comes as no surprise that Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) would call a hearing on this subject given the exchanges that occurred the last time FEMA Administrator, Craig Fugate appeared before the House to present the FEMA FY2010 Budget. 

At that hearing the Administrator was peppered with questions (and a few pokes) by Rep. Thompson and other members of the Homeland Security Committee from Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas – all states still dealing with significant housing challenges following Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike.  In that hearing the Administrator got a firm and frustrated earful by Congressional Members very unhappy with FEMA’s performance on this issue.

While it is not surprising to hear about Congressional Members being frustrated with a particular federal agency, and how its programs are serving their constituents back home, this hearing seems to be missing key ingredient as it considers (according to the hearing press release) “FEMA’s strategy and plans to provide displaced individuals interim housing options in the wake of future catastrophes.”

If you want to talk about housing options for future catastrophes wouldn’t it make sense to have a representative from the US Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) at the witness table to offer some insight?  Maybe there is a part of FEMA’s charter that I missed, but taking care of housing options seems to be part of the perpetual mission creep of responsibilities that Congress and others look to assign FEMA.

While the agency should provide leadership on emergency housing options following a disaster, giving it the responsibilities to take on these issues on an interim and long-term basis only hampers FEMA’s abilities to take care of other essential assignments.  

As a Cabinet office, HUD is assigned some very specific responsibilities as it relates to the nation’s housing but that must have been forgotten when the hearing witness list was assembled.  

Maybe it’s a jurisdiction thing in being able to get someone from HUD to appear before the Committee to discuss this issue.  

Maybe it was an honest oversight in not including them; or maybe it’s just one more opportunity for Members to wag their fingers at FEMA, generate some headlines for the papers back home and look good for kicking someone around.  

As we all know by now, it’s a proven headline maker but it doesn’t make for good lawmaking to not include an essential ingredient for solving a very real problem.  That seems to be pretty obvious to the people that I know that have worked on this issue but maybe it’s not so obvious to the Committee.  

Maybe by the end of the hearing they will have that figured that out, but as some of my friends at HUD have told me before, you can’t spell ‘duh,’ without the h, the u and of course the d.  

That’s pretty obvious too…

This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.


Post Comment

Your email address will not be published.