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The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent

Emanuel Hedges on FEMA Autonomy

Dexter Cooke
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | Dec 03, 2008

One of the big questions concerning the future of the Department of Homeland Security is whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency should remain under its control.

Many have argued that the bureaucratic reorganization that placed FEMA in Homeland Security’s purview following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks played a major role in the federal government’s tragically bungled response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Recent news reports have indicated a desire within the incoming administration to restore FEMA’s autonomy, and during the Democratic primaries, Obama pledged to re-elevate the FEMA director to a cabinet-level position.

However, as I noted yesterday, during the press conference in which Obama rolled out his national security team, Obama seemed to suggest that Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, his nominee for secretary of homeland security, might remain in control of FEMA.

Today, during Obama’s flight home to Chicago from the National Governors Association meeting in Philadelphia, Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel gave the press a briefing on the events at the governors meeting. According to the pool report, the topic of FEMA came up, and Emanuel appeared to send mixed signals as to whether the agency would remain a part of Homeland Security. (Apologies for the mix of paraphrasing and Q & A.)

[Emanuel:] Governor Bobby Jindal [...] couldn’t have been blunter that FEMA is not working.

There was also a bipartisan sense … that one of the more important things you can do is get a FEMA that is operable and helps states process what needed to be processed to get a recovery, when you are hit with a natural catastrophe, up and running.

Q: Bellantoni: Did Napolitano weigh in?

[A:] You all know FEMA is under the Department of Homeland Security so you have somebody who’s close at hand and somebody you all know and there was an applause done for her at that time.

Again, it looks like Emanuel is pretty clearly indicating that Napolitano will play a role in FEMA, which would suggest that FEMA will stay where it is. But then Emanuel ducks a direct question about the future of the agency.

Q: So it was indicated to the governors that FEMA would remain under Homeland Security?

A: Well it was indicated was the Department of Homeland Security Sec- Janet Napolitano. I didn’t we did not, nobody got into that subject –(interjection- “of whether or not it would”)- but it was no, that particular subject was not brought up. It was the general sense that FEMA was not responsive. And that it could do a better job and that was where it was set.

Whether the administration intends to move FEMA is anybody’s guess, but despite the fact that news reports suggest it will, both Obama and Emanuel have signaled that FEMA could remain within Homeland Security, at least for a little while.

Dexter Cooke | He is an orthopedic surgeon who insists that a physician's first priority should be patient care. He specializes in minimally invasive complete knee replacement surgery and laparoscopic procedures that reduce pain and recovery time. He graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina with a medical degree and a postdoctoral fellowship in orthopedic medicine.


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