Conservative Viewpoints

"Government is not the solution…it is the problem" -Ronald Reagan

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FEMA still a mess

Posted by Stephen on April 14, 2007

The Federal Emergency Management Agency continues to provide a fine example for Americans who wonder if larger federal bureaucracies are the answer to important local and state problems.

FEMA has been a resounding failure since falling under the watchful eye of Homeland Security. The latest example of colossal mismanagement was reported on Friday. The Washington Post is reporting that as many as 6 million prepared meals stockpiled near potential victims of the 2006 hurricane season spoiled in the Gulf Coast heat last summer.

The report states that hundreds of trucks sat in parking lots in the Gulf Coast while more than $40 million in food spoiled in temperatures that topped 120 degrees. Most of the meals were commercial versions of the military’s Meals Ready to Eat, or MRE’s. The food was sent to the region to prepare for the possibility of disasters resulting from storms during the 2006 hurricane season. Clearly, FEMA was attempting to avoid the possibility of problems they faced after Katrina swept through the region.

FEMA’s deputy director, Coast Guard Vice Adm. Harvey Johnson, said the agency may have overreacted by storing so many supplies.

“We were so concerned over the failure of Katrina that we . . . probably bought more commodities and had on hand more than what otherwise might be the most prudent business choice,” Johnson said. “Given the pressure to perform . . . we didn’t want to run any chance of running out.”

Post writer Spencer S. Hsu reports that “news of the latest problems at FEMA follows findings after Katrina that the agency awarded up to $1 billion in improper payments to individuals, spent $900 million on 25,000 trailers that could not be used in flood zones and paid $1.8 billion for hotel rooms and cruise ship cabins that were more expensive than apartments.”

This is the latest in a series of breakdowns within FEMA. There is growing concern that this organization is not moving fast enough to correct problems that prevent them from delivering vital services at the point of greatest crisis. Congress is weighing in on the problems with FEMA.

“I am angry about this senseless waste of taxpayer money and hopeful that the FEMA reorganization that our committee recommended . . . will put an end to screw-ups like this,” said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate homeland security committee.

It is not the idea of bringing food, water and ice that is troubling, but rather the lack of planning needed to implement the moves that FEMA is making. For example, it took ten days for FEMA to respond to the request for supplies to Mississippi after Katrina. 182 million pounds of ice were finally sent to the area, but less than half was actually used.

Hsu wrote that in light of such incidents, FEMA resorted to “brute force” in 2006, flooding Gulf states with massive stocks of food, water and ice. At the time, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and FEMA Director R. David Paulison boasted of storing enough to feed 1 million people for a week.

FEMA intends on increasing the use of the military and military resources to store future payloads of supplies. They are discussing reducing the number of truck loads of food and eliminating some 2,055 trucks of ice pending further review.

What is troubling for some people is the notion that an increase of government involvement is the solution to the problem. The reality is it was government’s heavy handed involvement after Katrina that intensified the disaster that took place in the Gulf Coast region.

Many of the initial problems that took place after Katrina were embedded in the failure of local and state officials that stood in the way of the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and the U.S. Coast Guard. The Governor of Louisiana and the Mayor of New Orleans were personally responsible for telling organizations that they were not allowed to enter the disaster area until they deemed it safe.

Such a move by officials would have been appropriate if they were not dealing with people and organizations that specialized in the very relief the region was in need of. The notion that government officials were more prepared to assess the safety and reasonableness of the response to Katrina was irresponsible at best.

The solution to the current FEMA breakdowns exist within policies that reduce the scope of their responsibilities while increasing and streamlining the response abilities of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and the National Guard. These organizations have the ability, and should be given the resources necessary to establish a cohesive line of communication to coordinate response efforts. These are organizations that are quite comfortable with assessing priorities, roles, response effectiveness, supplies necessary, and other contingency plans that are crucial to a successful response to a crisis.

In the end, less government “help” will go a long way to successfully saving lives and increasing the ability to respond to local crisis. There certainly is a role for government to play, but it is a support role. For example, the federal government could spend more time trying to figure out a way to avoid writing a billion dollars in relief checks just to watch them being spent on hookers, gambling, and trips to Punta Cana.

Stephen Winslow is the executive editor of Conservative Viewpoints.


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