WASHINGTON – With the 2007 hurricane season drawing near, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Wednesday called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to boost hurricane preparedness efforts and move quickly to implement recently passed emergency response reforms.
In a committee hearing, the senators examined reforms FEMA has implemented as a result of bipartisan legislation authored by Senators Lieberman and Collins that reinvented the agency to improve its operational and response capabilities. The legislation was approved by Congress in September and signed into law last October.
“Americans need to hear we are making progress, because Hurricane Katrina didn’t just devastate New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. It also dealt a body blow to our national sense of safety as well,” Lieberman said. “FEMA must be more forward-leaning, efficient and proactive. Building it into the premier federal emergency response agency our nation needs will not happen overnight, but we are optimistic that the agency is making effective progress in facing the many challenges ahead. And the Department of Homeland Security must be prepared to fully support those efforts.”
“While FEMA’s effective response to the recent tornados in the Midwest and to the April nor’easter in Maine is encouraging, and while they were certainly devastating to the many communities that were struck, obviously neither disaster approached the scope of Hurricane Katrina,” said Senator Collins. “To this day, residents of the Gulf Coast still point to a cumbersome bureaucracy that hinders the delivery of aid and reconstruction assistance. FEMA’s reorganization is not yet complete and coordination with other federal partners is still a work in progress.”
After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005, Senators Lieberman and Collins conducted an extensive investigation into the failures at all levels of government to prepare for and respond to a disaster that had long been predicted. After conducting dozens of hearings and hundreds of interviews over the course of eight months, the Senators issued a 750-page report that contained a number of recommendations. Those recommendations formed the basis of the Post Katrina Emergency Reform Act of 2006, which became law on October 4, 2006.
The law required FEMA to reunite its preparedness and response functions, gave FEMA special status within DHS, and required that the Administrator of FEMA be the principal advisor to the President for emergency management during disasters. It also required FEMA’s senior leadership have relevant emergency management experience.
The two witnesses at the hearing were R. David Paulison, Administrator of FEMA, and Michael P. Jackson, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.