Thursday, April 27, 2006

Goodbye FEMA

A Senate panel looking into what went wrong with the Hurricane Katrina response is recommending that FEMA be abolished and replaced by a new organization called The National Preparedness and Response Agency. This might seem like an overreaction until you consider who is pushing for the change: Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins, two senators not known for their excitability. This is indeed an idea whose time may have come.

FEMA failed in the wake of Katrina. Not only did it fail on an execution level but it failed on a structural level. The agency simply lacked the organizational capacity to respond effectively to the crisis. And while there are those who will coldly tell you responsibility falls on the people of New Orleans and elsewhere who chose not to evacuate and had no emergency supplies, the fact remains that FEMA did not provide adequate assistance and was helpless to speed up response times even as the magnitude of the disaster became apparent.

Is there a way to fix FEMA? Possibly. But it seems to me that the smarter and more efficient solution is to create a new administration with responsibilities and skills tailored to modern expectations of the federal government’s role in disaster relief. Such an administration would be structurally integrated into the Department of Homeland Security where as FEMA is merely taped on. And such an administration would allow for a clean break (or a relatively clean break) from the mistakes and shame of the past.

Properly responding to failure does not always or even often require a radical reorganization. But in this case, I think abolishing FEMA and replacing it with a new agency is the right call.


Anonymous Steven Sieber said...

I have linked to this post from The Journal of a Future President at

12:20 PM  
Blogger AubreyJ said...

If they should trash FEMA... may they please wait until the winter months to start a new...

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should not bash FEMA because of Katrina. What about Rita? Midwestern floods? Western fires? No was complaining then.
This shows the spoiled American attitude of "if it can't have it now (complete, immediate fixing of problems), then destroy it."
Separating it from DHS may be a good idea, but otherwise it will have the same problems. Government can't always fix problems overnight, and the change will be only seem cosmetic when there is another intractable natural disaster.

6:45 AM  

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