Friday, March 27, 2009

Is FEMA better today as part of DHS than it was under James Lee Witt?

James Lee Witt has insisted for years that putting FEMA into DHS was a bad idea.  After all, he says, we never had disasters like Katrina when FEMA was an independent agency with cabinet rank -- that is, when he was running it.  Well, the dirty little secret is exactly that.  We never had disasters like Katrina in those years.  In fact, according to Wikipedia, the worst disasters in those years were the 1993 midwest floods and the Northridge earthquake.  Both killed about 50 people.  Not one hurricane caused significant fatalities under President Clinton (Andrew, which did kill two dozen, was in 1992 and may have been the last straw for President Bush's reelection hopes). 

In contrast, FEMA under DHS has faced five hurricanes causing double-digit, triple-digit, and even quadruple-digit fatalities (Charley, Frances, Ivan, Rita, Katrina -- a total of more than 2000 dead).

Of course Witt looked good in comparison.  He was playing in Division III, while DHS  found itself playing the Celtics. 

But now we may have  a chance to see how FEMA and DHS look when they're playing in Witt's division. There is major flooding in the Midwest again.

It may not be quite as bad as 1993, since the water's going north on the Red instead of south on the Mississippi, but it's close enough.  Fargo is likely to go under. 

Witt has a lot to say about what a good job he did in responding to the 1993 floods.  Well, if FEMA does as well in 2009, maybe he'll have less to say about moving it out of the department.

1 comment:

William R. Cumming said...

This is the wrong question! Whether in or out of DHS, FEMA needs to be in a strong supporting role for domestic civil crisis management. Bill Clinton was his own crisis manager, strongly supported by James Lee Witt. What is desperately needed (and has never existed) is a civil domestic crisis management system and chain of command so that the oldest and richest democracy (Republic) does not have to rely on the military.