WASHINGTON – In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff last week, Senator Joe Lieberman, ID- Conn., Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, joined Congressional colleagues in expressing concerns about shortcomings and delays in the implementation of the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act by the Department of Homeland Security.
Enacted to prevent the recurrence of the failures seen in the preparation for and response to Hurricane Katrina, the legislation required a substantial overhaul of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The letter stated that efficient, timely and effective implementation of the Act is critical to homeland security and highlighted indicators that DHS may not be effectively and promptly implementing the bill. The letter also asked DHS and FEMA to provide full and complete briefings to Congress no later than January 8, 2007 on the Act, including on the actions being taken to ensure all specified components of the Preparedness Directorate (including the National Preparedness Task Force and the Office of Grants and Training) are transferred to FEMA.
Lieberman was joined by Senator Susan Collins (R-Me.), Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Representatives Peter King (R-NY), and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Chairman and Ranking Member, respectively, of the House Committee on Homeland Security in writing the letter, which follows:
December 28, 2006
The Honorable Michael Chertoff
Secretary Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Chertoff:
On October 4, 2006, President Bush signed into law P.L. 109-295. Title VI of this law is the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 (“the Act”). The Act made substantial changes to FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security, including making the Administrator of FEMA responsible for all phases of emergency management – preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation – effectively rejoining all preparedness and response activities within FEMA.
Many parts of the Act had an immediate effective date, while other sections of the Act have an effective date of March 31, 2007. Efficient, timely, and effective implementation of the Act is critical to homeland security and is a high priority for our Committees. As such, on several occasions some of our staff has requested briefings regarding the implementation of the Act. However, to date, neither DHS nor FEMA has provided any briefings.
Moreover, there are already some indicators that DHS may not be effectively and promptly implementing the bill. For instance, under P.L. 109-295, DHS was required to report to Congress with any recommendations for transfers, reprogrammings, and necessary budget requests to implement the Act.
In response to this directive, on November 1, 2006, Scott Charbo, DHS Acting Under Secretary for Management, wrote to Senator Robert Byrd, the incoming chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, that DHS had not identified any additional transfers, reprogrammings or budget requests needed to implement the Act.
Given the Act’s vast changes, we question how the Act can be implemented within Congress’s intent without any transfers, reprogrammings, or budget requests. As another example that the implementation may be lagging, DHS has already missed the Act’s deadline for establishing the National Advisory Council, a board designed to ensure essential state, local, tribal, and private sector input into federal emergency preparedness and response.
Due to these concerns, as well as our Committees’ need for general information regarding DHS’s plans for implementing the Act and actual implementation of the provisions of the Act already in effect, we request that DHS and FEMA provide our staffs with full and complete briefings on the implementation of the Act no later than January 8, 2007.
Some of the issues we would like addressed include:
1. One of the principal aspects of the Act is that preparedness and response be rejoined. The law mandates that all parts of the Preparedness Directorate as constituted on June 1, 2006 are to be transferred to FEMA, except the Office of Infrastructure Protection, the National Communications System, the National Cybersecurity Division, and the Office of the Chief Medical Officer. Thus, this transfer would include, but not be limited to, the National Preparedness taskforce, formally known as National Preparedness Integration Program and all parts of the Office of Grants and Training.
a. What actions are DHS and FEMA taking to ensure a smooth transition of these aspects of the Preparedness Directorate to FEMA? b. It is important that FEMA, with all of these additional pieces, work as a single coordinated agency, not simply as a collection of uncoordinated, unintegrated, independent offices. What actions are DHS and FEMA taking to fuse all aspects of FEMA into an integrated, coordinated agency?
2. The Act requires that FEMA develop and coordinate the implementation of a risk-based, all-hazards strategy for preparedness. What are FEMA’s plans to implement this provision?
3. What are the plans for the internal organization of FEMA? What positions, offices, departments, or divisions will be created within FEMA to carry out FEMA’s missions, activities, and responsibilities? Please provide an organizational chart of the proposed FEMA.
4. The law requires FEMA to develop and maintain robust Regional offices. How does FEMA plan to achieve this directive? What are the plans for the implementation of the Regional Office strike teams?
5. To provide for more effective and coordinated federal leadership of efforts to achieve operable and interoperable emergency communications nationwide, the Act establishes an Office of Emergency Communications within DHS, the Director of which is to report to the Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications.
The Office is to include most elements of the SAFECOM program, all the responsibilities and authorities related the Integrated Wireless Network, and the Interoperable Communications Technical Assistance Program. The provision establishing the Office of Emergency Communications was effective immediately upon enactment. Has the Office of Emergency Communications been established? If not, when does the Department intend to establish this Office? What is the structure of this office?
6. Subtitle E of the Act makes several changes to the Stafford Act. How is FEMA implementing those provisions?
7. As of November 1, 2006, according to a letter from DHS to Senator Byrd described above, DHS had not identified any need for transfers, reprogrammings or budget requests. What is your current assessment of the need for any transfers, reprogrammings, or budget requests?
8. The Act contains several provisions to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse. How is FEMA implementing those provisions?
SUSAN M. COLLINS, JOSEPH I. LIEBERMAN
Chairman Ranking Member Senate Homeland Security & Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee Governmental Affairs Committee
PETER T. KING, BENNIE G. THOMPSON
Chairman Ranking Member House Committee on Homeland Security House Committee on Homeland Security
cc: Fran Townsend, Homeland Security Advisor