Changes Ahead for FEMA As Congress Seeks Reorganization

Big changes are underway inside the battered Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but it’s not going to be the total dismantling and rebuilding that was recommended by the latest U.S. Senate report on what went wrong in the Katrina disaster...


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Unfortunately, organizational structure and who reports to whom does count. There’s something bitterly ironic about Congress blaming everyone but itself for DHS and FEMA failures. It was a small group of plotters in the Senate who hijacked the original DHS plan by taking grant money and power away from FEMA and giving it to the Office of Domestic Preparedness (ODP), which was supposed to become part of FEMA. Instead, ODP was smuggled out of FEMA, put in another directorate and given control over all first responder grants, including the fire programs. It was done to maintain the oversight authority of a few senators (and their staffs) and to satisfy the police, who feared that the fire-rescue service would have an advantage within a strong and viable FEMA. The end result: no one with any fire experience has ever had a voice inside ODP.

Maybe things will change in this latest reorganization. Chief R. David Paulison, the U.S. Fire Administrator and the nation’s highest-ranking fire officer, has been nominated to be the FEMA director and given the monumental task of rebuilding an agency that truly has been a “shambles.†If he succeeds, it will be great for the country and good for the fire service.


Hal Bruno, a Firehouse® contributing editor, retired as political director for ABC News in Washington and served almost 40 years as a volunteer firefighter. He is a director of the Chevy Chase, MD, Fire Department and chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.