Legislators propose to restore FEMA as an independent, cabinet-level agency

Published 12 December 2005

FEMA’s performance in Katrina prompts calls to release “trapped agency” from DHS fold

Many opposed incorporating FEMA into DHS when the department was created in 2003, and even more point to this incorporation as one of the reasons for FEMA’s woeful performance before, during, and after Katrina. This may change now. Representative James Oberstar (D-Minn.) introduced legislation Thursday to restore the FEMA to an independent, cabinet-level agency, as it was before it became part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2003. Oberstar called FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina a “disaster,” and said moving FEMA into DHS was the wrong thing to do. “It trapped the agency — an agency that needs to be nimble and be able to marshal resources quickly — in a bureaucratic morass,” Oberstar said. “During its time in DHS, FEMA has been partially dismantled, been bled of necessary resources, been unable to make timely decisions to deal with emergencies, and has been forced to focus on terrorism at the expense of natural disasters.” We note Oberstar’s consistency: He opposed moving FEMA into DHS when legislation was being drafted in 2002.

Oberstar’s bill follows similar bills from Oberstar himself earlier this fall, and from Mark Udall (D-Colo.), John Dingell (D-Mich.), and Mark Foley (R-Fla.). In the Senate, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has introduced a similar measure.

-see text of Oberstar’s bill H.R. 4433