It's taken this long for the party of really big government and Big Brother to do something about their top-heavy command chain for disaster management.
The Bush administration is set to announce an overhaul of the nation's emergency response blueprint Tuesday, streamlining a chain of command that failed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, sources familiar with the plan said yesterday.Tha changes are to be announced on Tuesday by Chertoff and FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison. The Gremlin is getting some of his power decentralised.
After years of aggressive lobbying by unhappy state governments, the administration chose to restore FEMA's power to coordinate federal disaster operations. That power was undermined in the administration's previous plan -- used just once, after Katrina -- when the secretary of homeland security appointed his own officer to oversee disaster response.
Under the new plan, the head of FEMA will appoint the top coordinating officer, clarifying responsibility and, according to the states, ending confusion that caused critical delays. Congress ordered that change to the plan last year.
State leaders, who condemned an early draft of the 90-page plan as lacking substance and ignoring their input, praised the administration this week for listening to their complaints and reestablishing a federal-state hierarchy that predated the Sept 11, 2001, attacks and DHS's formation in 2003.
"They changed. It came around 180 degrees," said Tim Manning, director of homeland security and emergency management for New Mexico and spokesman for the National Emergency Management Association, whose members include his counterparts in the 49 other states. "The country will have a much better response with this plan than we had with the previous plan," which was finished just nine months before Katrina struck.
The plan makes clear that the homeland security secretary will remain the president's "principal federal official for domestic incident management." But it limits his ability to designate that role only in extraordinary cases, leaving operational decisions about deploying federal assets to the FEMA administrator's choice in most disasters, Manning said.To my mind, there was never enough argument to establish DHS as a massive bureaucratic deprtment in its own right anyway. Politicians, in the wake of 9/11, decided they had to be seen to "do something big", and they picked the entirely wrong thing to do. Abolish it.
Another post-Katrina change eliminates a requirement that the homeland security secretary must declare an Incident of National Significance to trigger a more aggressive response -- a step that was delayed during the 2005 storm -- and instead spells out different standing plans for dealing with natural catastrophes and national security crises, the FEMA official said.
The DHS shift comes as Congress is once again considering whether to make FEMA an independent agency.