Should FEMA Be A Standalone Agency?
Should FEMA Be A Standalone Agency?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency could look much different under the Obama administration. Although it is part of the Department of Homeland Security, some feel it would run better as a standalone agency that deals directly with the president. Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who shares this view, offers his insight.
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MICHELE NORRIS, host:
In Southeast Texas, Hurricane Ike survivors clearly are frustrated with FEMA. In Washington, there are questions about what FEMA will look like under a new administration. President-elect Barack Obama once talked about removing FEMA from the Department of Homeland Security and again making it a standalone agency. However, current Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says that could hamper both agencies.
Retired Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore disagrees. Honore led the military relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, and he joins me now from Atlanta. And General Honore, you just heard that story about Hurricane Ike survivors and that massive pile of debris that they're still living with. How would FEMA acting as an independent agency do a better job?
Lieutenant General RUSSEL HONORE (U.S. Army, Retired): I think my recommendation would be to take a look at FEMA and make it a separate organization. When you look at the recovery operation of moving debris and trying to help people get back in their homes, I mean, you are accessing all parts of the government - Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Small Business Administration. Right now, you got FEMA sitting at the table, if I may use an analogy, as the great big helpful - want to be helpful St. Bernard. But that St. Bernard is sitting there trying to get assets and resources with the German shepherd, the Rottweiler and the pit-bull, whose mission is to prevent terrorist attacks and protect our borders - land, air, and sea - our airlines, our cruise liners.
So there's a lot of things happening in DHS where we have disasters year round. I mean, disasters don't take a break in America. Our trends do disagree with Secretary Chertoff. I respect him and Chief Paulson enormously for what they are trying to do. But the recovery operation branches - all branches of government and the way it's set up now, we need to partner better with the states because the governors in many cases they wash their hands and say, OK, it's a FEMA problem to clean it up.
NORRIS: Why should it be separated, though? What are the benefits of moving it from a place where it has all kinds of resources and quite a lot of staffing to an independent agency where it wouldn't be able to rely on all that?
Lt. Gen. HONORE: Well, I mean, FEMA is inside the food chain of DHS. So anything that goes on its plate gotta come from its daddy at DHS. Or go describe that and go ask the people down there in South Louisiana, ask the people at FEMA who are actually doing the work and who are held accountable and have to look the people in the eye every day if it should stay like it is. Whether it moves out of DHS or not, something has to happen to make them more responsible to the poor people in the country whose only way of recovery is with the help of FEMA and with the help of the insurance companies.
NORRIS: I mean, no disrespect to the people - the hardworking people who presently are part of the FEMA administration. Right now for many people in America, the word, the name FEMA, the acronym, does not stand for competence and does not present the safety net that people need on the other end of a natural disaster. In reorganizing or reconstituting this agency, do they need to come up with a different name?
Lt. Gen. HONORE: I think, you know, we have become very astute to branding. And I say Amen to your previous comment, I have upmost respect...
NORRIS: That was a question, not a comment.
Lt. Gen. HONORE: Yeah.
NORRIS: I wonder if that needs to happen.
Lt. Gen. HONORE: Yeah. It may need to be looked at, rebranding. We've got to try to get people whole again, and we need somebody to focus on that. And it can be a laser beam, prior to the event and afterwards, to try and get businesses up and running again and get people back in their homes.
NORRIS: Retired Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore led the military relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. And General Honore, thanks so much for talking to us.
Lt. Gen. HONORE: Good day.
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