One of the first orders of business for senators returning from the August recess was to address the public's concern that a year after hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast FEMA may still not be prepared for a similar disaster. Chairman Judd Gregg (R - NH) cited FEMA's abysmal performance a year ago to explain the purpose of the hearing, which was held to determine whether or not the embattled agency is ready for future disasters and to discover what Congress can do to help. Gregg specifically requested that the panel address issues of inter-operability between federal, state and local resources and describe improvements that have been implemented since last year's hurricane season.
Senator Robert C. Byrd (D - WV) warned that the country would be tested again, whether by hurricane, earthquake, pandemic or terrorist attack. He placed much of the blame for FEMA's previous failure squarely on the shoulders of the Administration. Before the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Byrd argued, the agency was able to respond to the needs of our citizens, since then however, "the Administration has allowed FEMA to wither on the vine."
Mr. Paulison outlined four major areas of improvement and reorganization based on lessons learned in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. One of the most visible problems at that time was the lack of experienced and respected leadership. Over the past several months, the agency has staffed its leadership positions with individuals who possess at least three years of experience in emergency management. These individuals have brought a sense of personal responsibility and extensive capability to the agency. The value of strong inter-agency partnerships has also been an important lesson. FEMA is now working more closely with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), the Department of Defense (DOD) and state and local emergency managers. Communications issues, ranging from the lack of equipment standards to the lack of protocols also hampered the response effort after Katrina. In response, FEMA has developed a unified command system based on the Incident Command System or ICS model. Through its partnerships and grant programs, FEMA is actively encouraging state, local and federal agencies to comply with inter-operability communication standards. The final issues that hampered relief efforts after Katrina were preparedness and logistics. FEMA has tripled its emergency supplies of food and water and increased its mobility and ability to track these resources. The contracting system has been improved by allowing debris contractors and others to pre-register with the agency and by assigning contingency contracts, thereby allowing small and local businesses to participate in the response and avoiding the single-source and no-bid contracting fiasco that has dogged FEMA for the past year.
Mr. Foresman presented a broader view of emergency preparedness in the United States. While more Americans are taking steps to prepare themselves and their families for a disaster, there are still many who do not. This may be due in part to a general lack of leadership and focus at the national level. "The findings of the Nationwide Plan Review reflects a lack of a shared national view on how prepared we really need to be" Foresman said.
Admiral Thad Allen, who led the Coast Guard's rescue efforts in the Gulf last year, spoke briefly in support of the Coast Guard's role in emergency management. He credited the Coast Guard's effectiveness during Katrina to three main things. First, the Coast Guard's day-to-day duties are essentially scaled down versions of crisis management. Whether engaged in rescue operations or port security, much of what ships and personnel do every day builds their skills to perform in the high-pressure environment of emergency response. Second, the Coast Guard's local presence and interoperability ensured effective, efficient cooperation throughout the response. Third, personnel are trained to continue to perform their duties and meet the needs of victims independently in case of communication shut-downs.
All three member of the first panel felt that the nation's emergency response capabilities were equal to the challenges posed by another category three or four hurricane in the Gulf. While many of these preparations are compatible with all-hazards all-threats preparedness, Admiral Allen and others pointed out that significantly more work must be done to prepare for other catastrophic scenarios, such as an earthquake on the New Madrid fault. In response to a question posed by Chairman Gregg, Mr. Paulison and Mr. Foresman agreed that the military, specifically federal forces, should be involved in emergency management only in a supporting role. State and local capacity, they argued, is far more crucial and should be the focus of development efforts.
Senator Mary L. Landrieu (D - LA), who is not a regular member of the subcommittee, attended the hearing to offer her personal thanks to Admiral Allen for the relief that he brought to the citizens of Louisiana following hurricane Katrina and to address the issue of inter-operability. The Admiral testified that inter-operability had been improved at all levels and that he and the other two witnesses of the panel work closely with each other and with other agencies to ensure adequate communication. A problem still exists at the local level, where bus-drivers, fire departments, emergency responders and police may all be on different networks. A federal grant system can be used to incentivize the purchase of one piece of equipment rather than another, but there still remain several hurdles to full inter-operability.
A major focus of the hearing was the controversial decision made by the Administration to remove the preparedness component of emergency management from FEMA's jurisdiction. All of the panelists and several of the subcommittee members felt that this was a mistake and that the four aspects of emergency management (preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery) are interdependent and should be handled under the same authority.
Mr. Baughman and Mr. Stanley, speaking on the second panel, agreed on several key points. Most importantly, they argued, FEMA must be strengthened and streamlined. Its funding should be 'fire walled' in a manner similar to how funding for the Coast Guard and Secret Service is protected from being mined for other DHS operations. Preparedness should be restored to FEMA's mission. The position of Principle Federal Officer, who is responsible for coordinating the federal response to an incident, should be eliminated in order to facilitate timelier decision-making in the field, and the Director of FEMA should report directly to the President, rather than to the Secretary of Homeland Security. State and local governments and emergency managers should have more input and better overall communication with FEMA in order to help develop response plans and to build local relationships prior to an emergency; this could be accomplished by strengthening and expanding FEMA's ten regional offices. "FEMA was once one of the most respected agencies in the government," said Mr. Stanley, "and it can be again
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works met on July 27, 2006 to discuss the Stafford Act and the future of the nation's emergency preparedness and response system. The Stafford Act of 1974 was last amended by the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-390). That amendment authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to use federal funds for pre-disaster mitigation programs and for assistance to states and local communities that have experienced disasters. After September 11, 2001, FEMA came under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and it yielded its preparedness responsibilities to DHS. Although this topic was not the focus of the hearing, Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member Jim Jeffords (I-VT) and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) all agreed that FEMA should be restored as an independent agency with direct communication to the President.
In his opening remarks, Chairman Inhofe said that he hoped DHS would adopt and further develop the preparedness plans that were initiated by FEMA. He also wanted to know if the U.S. is any closer to reducing the risk of loss of life by 10 percent and reducing the risk of property loss by 15 percent in 2007, as the National Preparedness Plan calls for. Senators Jeffords, Clinton, David Vitter (R-LA) and Barack Obama (D-IL) also gave opening statements, which concentrated on debris removal and housing assistance following catastrophic disasters, such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
There was lengthy discussion as to how the Stafford Act could be clarified to facilitate better response to current disasters. "Our nation deserves a federal disaster response that is coordinated, consistent and predictable [because] our states and communities must know what to expect as they develop their own emergency response plans," said Ranking Member Jeffords in his opening statement. Senator Obama suggested that a "catastrophic disaster" level be established - above the "major disaster" level - that would provide longer term resources and assistance. Pamela Pogue, the State Floodplain Manager of Rhode Island, recommended that the definition of "disaster" in the Stafford act be as inclusive and flexible as possible, in order to include pandemics or acts of bio-terrorism.
All witnesses agreed that pre-disaster preparation is a critical step toward reducing post-event damage. Robert Shea, FEMA's Acting Director of Operations, testified that every dollar spent on mitigation saves four dollars of relief. For flood mitigation, the number is even higher - one dollar spent on mitigation saves five dollars of flood relief. Pogue commented that, in addition to coordinated mitigation efforts at the national, state and local levels, private citizens must be invested in disaster preparation. She stressed that "risk communication" is key; local flood maps must be kept updated and citizens must be educated about flood insurance. "Communities without National Flood Insurance that are in FEMA-mapped flood areas should not be eligible for public assistance," said Pogue.
The hearing also touched on hurricane-related debris removal in the Gulf states. Shea told the committee that hurricanes Katrina and Rita produced about 118 million cubic feet of debris - enough to fill six million dump trucks. Debris removal and disposal is currently being handled jointly by FEMA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Senators Inhofe, Jeffords and Obama were concerned about the use of hastily constructed un-lined landfills in the New Orleans area, and the handling of asbestos and other hazardous debris materials. Deborah Dietrich, the Director of EPA's Office of Emergency Management, assured the committee that the EPA was working with USACE to ensure that hazardous materials were properly disposed of and that air, water and soil quality were being monitored.
For the full text of opening statements and witness testimony, click here.
The Homeland Security Act of 2002 created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by consolidating 22 other federal agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The department relies heavily on outside contracts to purchase technology, set up infrastructure and even provide mundane materials like bottled water. Creation of DHS was intended to facilitate cost savings in these contracts and enhance communication among the various sub-agencies, many of whom had interrelated missions. However, the procurement structure of DHS was never fully consolidated, thus preventing those benefits from being realized and resulting in a general lack of accountability or control. This problem has been exacerbated by a lack of qualified procurement officers as well as by the nature of certain procurement operations, which may involve highly technical components that few companies provide or may be needed for rapid response to an emergency like Hurricane Katrina. The result has been widespread mismanagement and billions of dollars of waste. The House Committee on Government Reform heard testimony on these problems on July 27, 2006. The hearing was scheduled to coincide with the release of a congressional report produced for Committee on Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R - VA) and Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman (D - CA) entitled, "Waste, Abuse and Mismanagement in Department of Homeland Security Contracts."
Chairman Davis recounted long-standing concerns among members of the committee with regards to acquisition challenges at DHS. The commission initiated a study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2003 that "found procurement responsibilities scattered throughout [DHS], with no clear lines of authority, decision-making or accountability." Davis asked the panelists to identify ways in which acquisition responsibilities may be consolidated to effect more efficient and responsible management.
Ranking Member Waxman outlined several basic premises of the committee's report. First, DHS has consistently spent more on contracts each year: the department spent $3.5 billion for contracts in 2003, compared to over $10 billion in 2005. In addition, a great deal of this spending has been on non-competitive, no bid contracts. Last year, over half of all contract spending was non-competitive. There is no effective system by which contracts are awarded and managed across the department, resulting in massive costs to taxpayers. Among the worst examples of waste and abuse was a single contract issued by TSA for $104 million that eventually cost the agency over $700 million. "Anyone who is not disgusted [by DHS]," added Representative John J. Duncan Jr. (R - TN), "cannot really call himself a fiscal conservative or a Republican."
Several members of the committee expressed concern that contracts were still being awarded to companies that had a history of malfeasance or had failed to deliver the services and materials for which they had been paid. Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D - OH) expressed extreme frustration with these companies, who he believes are abusing the American taxpayers for personal gain. He proposed that the CEOs of these companies be placed under oath before the committee to explain their inability to fulfill the terms of the contracts. The committee should also be looking at who lobbies for these companies and to whose campaigns they are contributing in order to route out their influence and protect taxpayers from ongoing abuse.
Sullivan and Zavada agreed that the lack of a proper management structure and lack of trained personnel contribute to the problems that DHS is facing. Mr. Zavada emphasized that acquisition management involves more than just signing off on contracts: it requires planning, being able to clearly define the terms of each contract, establishing performance measures and reviewing the performance of contract awardees. Planning and providing clear definition are particularly important in light of the frequent need for rapid response, emergency services.
Ms. Duke outlined her responsibilities as Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) for DHS and the procurement structure of the department. As CPO, Ms. Duke creates policies and procedures to guide the activities of the eight contracting offices that are responsible for planning and executing procurements for their component agencies. There are four main priorities that DHS should engage in to improve its procurement system: 1. build and train the acquisitions workforce so that it can meet the growing needs of the department. Since 2002, the DHS budget has grown at several times the rate of its acquisitions workforce; officials are over-tasked and not equipped with the appropriate skills to engage in best business practices or adequately serve the needs of their specific programs. 2. Establish a system for producing clearly-defined mission objectives for each contract to avoid the abuse and ballooning costs that have plagued the department's acquisitions program. 3. Establish greater coordination among the eight contracting offices in order to enhance the department's bargaining ability. 4. Strengthen administration and oversight of the services and products delivered to ensure that contractors meet their contractual obligations.
Mr. Ervin emphatically agreed with the findings of the congressional report, and put forth several lessons that could be learned from the past three years of dysfunction. All contracts should be competed for, no matter what the dollar amount or circumstances. Massive abuse was practiced against FEMA in the wake of Hurricane Katrina because the department had not planned ahead and developed competitively-bid contingency contracts. A particularly egregious example of abuse involved a de facto "cost plus percentage of cost" contract with Boeing to the tune of $1.2 billion. This charging method favors cost overruns, and technically is illegal. DHS must ensure that the loopholes by which this particular contract went through are thoroughly and completely done away with. Mr. Ervin concurred with Rep. Kucinich and other members that all contracts should contain penalties for failure to perform or tardiness, and that background checks of contracted companies should be performed in order to guard against corruption.
Members of the House Committee on Resources subcommittee on Water and Power heard testimony today from two panels of witnesses. Chairman George Radanovich (R - CA) noted in his opening remarks that after 9/11, security at major U.S. infrastructure became a new and expensive priority. Dams run by BuRec were quickly fortified with concrete barriers and guard patrols to ensure the safe delivery of power and water to citizens across the U.S. The rapidity with which this process occurred precluded a detailed analysis and discussion about how and by whom these new costs should be paid. The customers and end consumers, Chairman Radanovich noted, have been admirably patient while footing the bill for several years, however, growing resentment and frustration amongst those users must be addressed. Equity and accountability must be introduced to the system. Ranking Member Grace Napolitano (D - CA) pointed out that many of the benefits of large BuRec projects like Hoover Dam are national in scope and should be funded accordingly.
The first panel represented regional, state or local associations of wholesale water and power suppliers and they agreed on three basic points. Firstly, that more of the 9/11 related security costs should be borne by the Federal Government, whose explicit constitutional responsibilities include war and national security. Secondly, transparency should be introduced to the spending process such that customers understand how and why their money is being spent and have a role in making those decisions. Lastly, costs should be shared equally among users (e.g. power, water, and recreation) rather than being laid entirely at the feet of electricity consumers. Mr. Thomas Graves and others emphasized the need for congressional authorization and oversight of BuRec's security operations.
Several panelists also noted that BuRec has engaged in what Mr. Moyes calls "blank-check expansion"--unilaterally expanding the definition of reimbursable expenses, such that customers' rates are increasing with neither explanation nor predictability. In response to a question posed by Representative J.D. Hayworth (R - AZ), Mr. Moyes pointed out that rising electricity costs present great hardships for end-users, who are often farmers with low profit margins.
Mr. Feider suggested that Congress amend the Safety of Dams Act of 1978 (last amended in 2004) to address issues of cost-sharing, cost caps and oversight. Mr. Todd, the Deputy Commissioner of BuRec, acknowledged the need for oversight and consistency but felt that BuRec's current practices were "mature and stable." He also stated that the existing process was already transparent to the extent that BuRec was willing to work with individuals and organizations to ensure adequate communication. Mr. Todd had no objection to amending the Safety of Dams Act, though he noted that it may be unnecessary and would require certain changes to the cost-sharing structure.
The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee met on June 8, 2006 to discuss the effectiveness of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Critics of the FEMA response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita argued that the agency would be more effective if it was removed from DHS and restored as an independent agency. However, during their opening statements Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) made it clear that FEMA should remain in DHS. "We are here to discuss our recommendation to rebuild and to strengthen [FEMA], and to keep it within [DHS]," Collins said. Lieberman agreed, and pointed out that removing FEMA from DHS would create "duplicative" agencies carrying out the same mission in the federal government.
Witnesses concurred about the importance of keeping FEMA under DHS. Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, stated that "removing FEMA from DHS would greatly undermine the federal government's ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters, both natural and man made." To improve the effectiveness of FEMA all levels of emergency mitigation and response should be in one department. "Removing FEMA from DHS would return us to the pre-9/11 stove-piping that the Homeland Security Act was designed to eliminate," said Chertoff in testimony. Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) commended Chertoff's progress in working with FEMA.
Other witnesses agreed with Chertoff's statements. Vice Admiral Thad Allen, Commandant of the Coast Guard, explained the benefits of a unified effort under DHS. Having these two federal agencies in the same department would improve coordination, transparency, and the effectiveness of emergency response, Allen said. He cited the benefits of joint training and response to disasters between the Coast Guard and FEMA while under DHS. Furthermore, the effort has reinvigorated the agencies tasked with emergency response. "Synergy has been created within DHS," Allen mentioned. Senator Joseph Lieberman applauded the Coast Guard for transporting thousands of refugees in the days after Hurricane Katrina. He inquired if this success was partly due to the Coast Guard's authority to take action deemed necessary without direct orders from the White House or the declaration of a national disaster. In reply, Allen indicated that DHS was looking into similar authority for FEMA, which would include a fund to pay for a response before an official disaster is declared.
Donald F. Kettl, Director of the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania stated the issues that plagued FEMA during Hurricane Katrina where not structural, but leadership issues. FEMA needs to better recruit talented leaders and establish connections with first responders throughout the U.S., he elaborated. In addition, before becoming a DHS agency FEMA exercises had shown serious problems. "FEMA had demonstrable and significant performance problems when it was an independent agency There can be no evidence that restoring its independent agency status will improve its performance," he told the committee. John R. Harrald, Director for the Institute for Crisis, Disaster, and Risk Management at The George Washington University, agreed with Kettl's assertions, and added that many of the FEMA responsibilities for disaster management were directly related to other agencies within DHS.
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) disagreed with keeping FEMA in DHS. He stated his opinion that FEMA should be restored as an independent agency and be given the flexibility to operate without White House or DHS orders. Further, FEMA should have a cabinet-level advisor to the President to ensure the smooth flow of information necessary to effectively manage disasters. In response, Chertoff mentioned plans to establish ten zones that will harbor FEMA quick response teams. These teams could then establish relationships with first responders in state and local governments to more effectively react to emergencies in the future. Lautenberg also expressed concern to Collins that there were no witnesses called to show the opposing point of view, that of restoring FEMA as an independent agency.
Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) opened the first hearing of the newly created subcommittee on Disaster Prevention and Prediction without the presence of ranking member Ben Nelson (D-NE). In his opening statement, DeMint discussed potential contributions to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that could be made by non-defense science researchers. DeMint stated that, "by pushing the boundaries, scientists will often fail but when they make that dramatic and revolutionary break-through, they will enable a field of technology that will make the country safer and help us defeat terrorists."
Dr. Hratch Semerjian, acting director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), described his organization's role in post-September 11th recovery. NIST helped to rebuild and retrofit the Pentagon, developed new DNA analysis techniques and finger-printing standards for the criminal investigation, and developed a process of mail sterilization in reaction to the October 2001 anthrax attacks. Dr. Semerjian announced that NIST will be holding a press conference in New York City on June 23rd to release the results of engineering research conducted to determine the cause of the collapse of the World Trade Center.
Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., Administrator of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), explained that the system used to issue weather alerts, the NOAA Weather Radio, is now also used for security alerts issued by DHS. "We believe that the same systems that we can use for national security are valuable as well for environmental monitoring," Lautenbacher said. To date, 98% of the country has access to the NOAA weather warning system. In recent years, NOAA has upgraded the system to include warnings of chemical spills, biohazards, natural and manmade disasters.
NOAA also has national vessel tracking abilities, which are meant to aid in implementing fishing regulations but also are available for use by Homeland Security. In response to a question submitted by Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), who was not in attendance, Vice Admiral Lautenbacher told the subcommittee about a NOAA initiatve to give weather radios to schools in the top 10-15 high-security urban areas as well as two rural locations in Alaska and Mississippi. Although NOAA has enough funding for the current project, when asked, Lautenbacher could not estimate the costs necessary to extend the project to all areas of the country.
In his brief testimony, Dr. Arden L. Bement, Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), noted NSF's role in the advancement of nanotechnology, fissile materials detection, data-mining standards, and a new cyber security center at the University of California at Berkeley. Bement also stressed the importance of educating the nation's future workforce through scholarships for minority students majoring in science or technology. During the question and answer portion of the hearing, Senator Nelson asked Bement to clarify why funding for the Math and Science Partnerships has declined 24% since FY05 and is less than half of the FY04 budget due to a $1.4 million budget cut from FY05-FY06. Bement said that thanks to a new partnership with the Department of Education, there will be more resources available for this program. The Department of Education, according to Bement, is expected to cover the loss of funds almost completely.
Senator McCain, who had stepped out for much of the testimony, reappeared to question Vice Admiral Lautenbacher about NOAA's approach to climate change science. McCain opened his comments by accusing Vice Admiral Lautenbacher of remaining complacent on climate change, quoting him to have said, "we'd have to sleep 20-30 years before we'd know anything about climate change." Citing a Government Accountability Office report from April 14, 2005, McCain charged NOAA with failing to submit a national global change research plan by November 2004 as required by the Global Change Research Act of 1990. McCain also berated Lautenbacher for failing to notify the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee of any delay in progress. Shocking the audience with his sarcasm and criticism of Lautenbacher, McCain vowed to act "legislatively" to see that NOAA obeys the terms of the act that require the administration to prepare a scientific assessment at least every four years. McCain made his final criticism of NOAA's climate change research by saying, "I want to express my deep disappointment in your complete lack of concern about future generations of Americans who are affected by climate change." Reiterating the importance of climate change research, McCain ended the hearing by reading a statement released on June 7, 2005 by the Joint Science Academies from 11 countries that proclaims, "There is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring."
Sources: Energy & Environment Daily, Hearing Testimony.
Contributed by Anne Smart, 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Tim Donahue, 2006 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Carrie Donnelly, 2006 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; and Jessica Rowland, 2006 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern.
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Last updated on September 11, 2006.